Verizon Launches ‘FreeBee Data’

Trialing Two Forms of New 'Sponsored’ Data Service
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Joining a growing group of mobile carriers using controversial zero-rated data policies, Verizon on Tuesday introduced FreeBee Data, a “sponsored data” service that will be exempt some content from usage-based data caps.

Verizon said FreeBee Data is being offered under to models – FreeBee Data 360, a usage-based version that enables partners to sponsor some or all of their content on mobile apps or mobile Web sites, and a coming data exempt version that’s delivered on a sponsored, pay-per-click basis. Both are “open to any content provider,” the carrier said.

Verizon’s offering follows the November 2015 launch of “Binge On” from T-Mobile that relies on a proprietary, bandwidth-efficient encoding system that delivers mobile video in 480p format, and zero-rates streams from several content partners, including Netflix, HBO, Starz, Sling TV, Hulu, among several others. Network neutrality advocates have been critical of Binge On (T-Mobile maintains it’s well within the rules), though it has already earned some praise from FCC chairman Tom Wheeler.

Under FreeBee DaTa 360, content providers can sign up provide users with mobile video and other content – whether delivered in an app or a mobile Web site, without eating into the consumer’s data plans, Verizon said.

Currently in commercial beta and limited to Verizon’s post-paid customers with 3G/4G connections to Verizon’s mobile network, , FreeBee Data 360 is billed on a per-gigabyte pricing model, though content partners can sponsor “specific consumer actions on a per-click basis” without data charges for subscribers, including mobile video clips, audio streaming, and app downloads, the company said.

Verizon said it will start to beta test a separate pay-per-click service on January 26, noting that early participants include Hearst Magazines, AOL (acquired by Verizon last year) and Gameday. That beta will initially involve the sponsoring of some mobile content for 1,000 test subscribers, and Verizon expects to launch pay-per-click commercially later this year.

Verizon outlined some examples of sponsored data, including 30-second ads promoting a movie, a trailer for a new app, promotional links for purchases, and mobile downloads from an app store.

A FreeBee Data icon (the bee shown in the image above) will appear next to sponsored pay-per-click content, while FreeBee Data 360 partners can sponsor some or all of the content offered via their apps or Websites.

Verizon said it is introducing the new sponsored data service as consumers spend more of their time viewing video on mobile platforms.

“In today’s digital economy, FreeBee Data is a departure from the one size fits all approach to marketing,” Colson Hillier, vice president of consumer products at Verizon, said in a statement. “The opportunity to add value and utility to consumers’ everyday experiences will fundamentally transform how brands and businesses connect with their customers.”