DirecTV this week released an update to its app for Apple iOS and Android devices that allows subs to stream virtually all the live channels — and DVR recordings — anywhere in the U.S.
And as part of that AT&T, which owns DirecTV, has adopted a new policy: Customers with both AT&T wireless and DirecTV service will be able to stream an unlimited amount of video through the app without tapping into their monthly data-usage bucket. (The feature also is available for U-verse app users.)
AT&T is calling the new program “Data Free TV.” But the exemption of its own video services from usage caps immediately set off alarm bells among network-neutrality advocates, who charge that the “zero-rating” data approach gives AT&T an unfair advantage over other streaming services.
The FCC’s net neutrality rules, which broadband service providers are contesting in court, mandates that ISPs treat all data traversing their networks the same.
The telco giant insisted that Data Free TV does not run afoul of the FCC’s network neutrality principles.
“We are not treating our services differently from any other data,” an AT&T rep said in a statement. “This feature is simply our way of saying thanks to customers that purchase both video and mobility services from AT&T.”
Other content providers can have their video streamed without counting toward AT&T wireless caps through the carrier’s “sponsored data” program, according to the telco. But of course, under such an arrangement, services like Netflix or Hulu would be required to pay the telco in order to get the exemption — so in reality, they’re not on the same playing field.
The FCC’s Open Internet Order prohibits Internet service providers from blocking or slowing traffic, and also forbids “paid prioritization” under which ISPs provide faster access for content from companies that pay them; it does not explicitly ban sponsored data plans (a.k.a. zero-rating services) such as AT&T’s Data Free TV. The FCC is currently conducting an informal policy review of zero-rating services. “Chairman (Tom) Wheeler said the Commission would keep an eye on new developments in this area and we are continuing to do so,” FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said.
AT&T reintroduced an unlimited wireless plan earlier this year — but that’s available only to customers who also subscribe to DirecTV. Last month, AT&T rolled out Mobile Share Advantage plans that provide unlimited data usage but limit bandwidth speeds to 128 Kbps for the remainder of the billing cycle once customers hit preset usage thresholds.
T-Mobile also has been the target of net-neutrality advocates with its Binge On program, which exempts more than 100 streaming services from usage caps. Last month the carrier introduced a new plan, T-Mobile One, which includes unlimited data as a standard feature and thus renders Binge On obsolete for new customers.
In any case, DirecTV customers should be pleased with the updated app’s features.
In addition to being able to live-stream 315 channels, the satcaster’s customers can now access their DVR recordings from anywhere (with some restrictions). Additionally, customers can download most recorded content from their home DVR to their mobile device and watch it even while offline.
The DirecTV app also lets users restart shows in progress or watch shows that aired in the last 72 hours – even they haven’t been set to record. Additionally, the app provides more than 20,000 movies and TV shows on-demand.
It’s worth noting that Dish Network has offered the ability to live-stream TV channels and recorded DVR content over the internet for years, via its Hopper DVR. Comcast also lets Xfinity X1 customers stream DVR recordings online, as well as live TV.