T-Mobile Exempting 'Pokemon Go' Data on Network, Sparking Concerns About Access

Exempting data from the game may hurt consumers in the long run, expert warns.

ByABC News
July 18, 2016, 11:25 PM

— -- Starting tomorrow, playing the hit "Pokemon Go" game will not count against your data allowance if you’re a T-Mobile customer -- leading some experts to worry that it may impact options for consumers.

Net neutrality issues -- dealing with equality in access to the internet -- have been front and center in recent months, specifically surrounding internet service providers charging different rates for different bandwidths.

John Legere, president of T-Mobile, said in a statement that the promotion was to thank "customers with hot, new, totally free gifts every week, and right now, nothing is hotter than Pokémon Go!" The promotion is opt-in and the exemption lasts a year.

But some experts don’t share his enthusiasm for the process known as “zero-rating” -– or exempting select services from counting against customers’ data caps.

While the exemption may appear to be a boon for customers, critics fear that it will harm consumer choice over the long run.

“When they say XYZ service is exempt from your data cap, we’ve seen that it changes consumer behavior,” said Josh Stager, Policy Counsel at the Open Technology Institute, told ABC News. “Consumers are going to gravitate to the one that doesn’t count.”

Stager said that he fears that this will make it harder for new apps and internet services to enter the market and challenge the popularity of established ones.

“What we’re really worried about are online startups –- will this create a new barrier to entry for them? Will they have to pay to get zero-rated?” he said.

For Stager, this changes a traditional concept of the internet -– that all services are treated equally. And this, he believes, could allow service providers to act “sort of like the gatekeepers on the internet.”

In a statement emailed to ABC News, a T-Mobile spokesperson said: “The FCC rules do not prohibit zero rating. In addition, it’s a limited time gift for customers through T-Mobile Tuesdays. This is an optional gift that customers can choose to take advantage of -- or not.”

The spokesperson also said that “none of our partners or providers pay to be zero-rated.”

It was not clear if other major carriers would follow suit.

An email to AT&T was not returned.

A Sprint spokeswoman, Danielle Babbington, said that the company was not zero-rating the game on its network, but was providing other promotions, including discounted batteries, for heavy users of the game.

A Verizon spokesman, Chuck Hamby, said a decision has not been made regarding zero-rating the game, but says the company does zero-rate some services.

“It’s a pretty low impact game as far as data usage goes,” he said.