Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers should carry data traffic without regard to what the data is or who is generating it.
But a new offer from Sprint’s mobile pre-paid, no-contract brand, Virgin Mobile USA, lets customers buy unlimited access to certain content and apps — like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — which by definition identifies, labels and gives special consideration to specific kinds of data. It’s the opposite of net neutrality.
You can get a Facebook-only phone for $12 a month. You can also get a Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest phone. For an extra $5 you can stream unlimited music.
Here’s how the plan works. You can get up to five lines for just under $7 a month and pick add-ons which include unlimited texting, and voice plans and special add ons that give customers unlimited access to apps including Facebook or Pandora. The carrier also offers 30 minutes of international calling to specific countries.
“Custom represents both our first multi-line plan and a new model for buying no-contract wireless that gives consumers greater choice and control than ever before,” says Dow Draper, president of Sprint Prepaid Group. “Our customers will have a whole new level of spending management, plan customization and parental control. They can tailor what they pay for to match their own and their family’s needs.”
The new plans are intended to attract parents who want more control over their kids’ data consumption, and also give Sprint a play for lower-income customers who rely solely on their smartphone for internet access — about one in four smartphone users, according to data from the Pew Research Internet Project. Certainly a hefty market segment. Nonetheless, it’s nothing if not in direct opposition to the idea of a free and open internet.
It’s worth mentioning that this sort of data usage and billing flexibility is something mobile carriers have wanted to offer for a long time. Otherwise, they would have been doing it already. It’s smart business to charge a premium for the data people want most. But in the past, the technology infrastructure wasn’t smart or flexible enough to make it happen. Sprint has recently put a slick, new platform behind its Virgin Mobile USA pre-paid brand, called ItsOn, which lets the carrier do these types of data and billing acrobatics for the first time. Instead of a rigid billing system that tracks a month’s worth of data and spits out a report, ItsOn gives Sprint and Virgin Mobile USA the unique ability to make these on-the-fly changes to a customer’s plan, bill or access. Another promise behind the flexible on-demand technology infrastructure is the ability for certain companies to sponsor data for customers as part of a branding or promotional campaign.
For Sprint, they say it’s all about giving their customers more choice and letting them only buy what they use.
“This is really just part of a broader effort toward customization,” Draper told the Wall Street Journal.