One of today's best trends in wireless can be summed up in one word: "free." Mobile users have seen a growing array of choices allowing them to stream many popular websites and content at no charge to their data plans.
Known as "free data," these offerings from mobile carriers provide important benefits for low-income and minority communities who may struggle to afford mobile broadband. Additionally, programs like this help individuals in these communities gain better access to health care services on their mobile devices - heart and stroke monitoring, blood pressure and vision testing, and so much more.
So why is the FCC being so hesitant to embrace the free data offerings that are already delivering benefits to consumers and the marketplace?
The FCC's chair initially praised the free data concept last fall. But barely a month later, the Commission reversed course and launched an investigation into the practice. In the FCC's view, there's apparently a question as to whether giving something away free is a form of online discrimination. Given their concern, I hope they'll read a new report on this subject from the Multicultural Media, Telecom & Internet Council.
The MMTC looked at free data's impact in several key areas including the digital divide, consumers who rely on mobile broadband, mobile innovation and consumer empowerment. In each area, MMTC found that free data's benefits are "profound and wide-ranging."
Sponsored programs involving free data are likely to become an increasingly effective way to finance faster, more accessible broadband service for all. On this point, the report notes: "The actual contours of the free data plans are fluid, responsive to consumer demand, optional, and, unlike many other online offerings, they do not rely on targeted ads to pay for the data."
If the FCC wants to ensure more Americans can enjoy the benefits of mobile broadband, then it should not unnecessarily interfere with a program that is leading to more innovation and competition in the marketplace.
Everyone supports making broadband service faster and easier to access. But spreading this service everywhere is a pricey proposition. Free data is an excellent option to help pay for it. The FCC should let it bloom.