Under one flavor of FreeBee, businesses can subsidize "some or all of their mobile content" for consumers, according to Verizon, potentially keeping a streaming video service or a podcast from ever eating into a Verizon subscriber's data plan. Another version of FreeBee allows companies to subsidize single pieces of content, such as downloads of an individual app or other media.
It's a growing trend in the wireless space as companies look for ever more ways to hook data-hungry mobile users. But the practice has drawn scrutiny from net neutrality advocates who argue that sponsored data or "zero rating" lets rich, powerful companies pay to win, tilting the playing field against entrepreneurs and start-ups who can't afford to pay the new fees.
The Federal Communications Commission has held meetings with a number of companies that engage in the practice. It's called for AT&T, T-Mobile and Comcast to discuss their various programs. Verizon has so far escaped those regulatory requests, but that could all change as FreeBee — whose first option launched today as a beta test, with the second version launching Jan. 25 — gets rolling.