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July 31, 2014

Social Media Mobile Fans: Sprint Set to Offer Inexpensive Connection Plan

For anyone who's ever had a cable plan, and wondered why they were paying such ridiculous amounts of money for channels that were never watched in the first place—does anyone really need five or more ESPNs? —there's a new mobile plan that may be just for you. Specifically, it's from Sprint, and it's going to offer up an extremely inexpensive mobile plan for those who only do a certain number of things, and all of these in the social media bracket.

The move calls for Sprint to offer up a mobile plan in which it allows users to connect to Facebook, and absolutely nothing else, for $12 a month. Alternate plans will follow, in which for that $12 a month, users can instead connect to a choice of Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter at the same price, and paying an extra $10 a month allows access to all four. Another $5 a month will, at last report, not only get all four social media networks, but also access to a music app where unlimited streaming will be available.

Basically, this is designed to be a means to gain access to customers with lower incomes, interested in mobile service but not interested in paying $50 a month or more. Dow Draper, Sprint's president of prepaid, notes that this move “...is really just part of a broader effort toward customization.” Draper notes that, with this measure, customers can pay less and get access to the app most used rather than buying an entire bucket of data outright.

This isn't a bad idea on the surface, but when looked at more closely, some already see trouble emerging. Specifically, the plan is offering something of a challenge to net neutrality principles, or the idea that all Internet traffic should be equal. Sprint's plan, some note, is challenging this notion by encouraging access to dominant services by means of specific pricing plan. The music app, for instance, wouldn't necessarily be one that the users would select, but rather one that struck a deal with Sprint and already had market power enough to do that. Draper noted that Sprint wasn't actually being paid by any of the apps yet to offer these services, but it was a measure that was “definitely possible.”

It mirrors a recent move made by T-Mobile, in which users were offered unlimited access to music streaming from certain services. The “Music Freedom” plan, as it was called, was also seen as something of a concern to net neutrality buffs who noted that it was essentially a way to favor one breed of traffic over another, and potentially limit competition. It's easy to see both sides of this particular issue, as offering up lower-cost access is seldom a bad idea, but it's a bad idea to see that lower-cost access delivered into very specific areas. However, the ability to adjust other parts of the plan—like paying less if there aren't any text messages used—isn't a bad idea either. This also lends support to the idea of a Sprint / T-Mobile merger, still expected to happen after September.

Only time will tell how this all turns out, and while it's an idea that's got some merit, it's also a dangerous idea on several fronts. More customization is generally a good thing, a sort of response to market considerations. But whether this ends up as blessing or curse remains to be seen.

Edited by Adam Brandt

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