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AT&T could offer ad-subsidized phone plans starting next year

The carrier's CEO says it could shave $5 to $10 off a subscriber's bill.
Mariella Moon, @mariella_moon
September 16, 2020
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Chicago - Circa May 2018: AT&T Mobility Wireless Retail Store. AT&T now offers IPTV, VoIP, Cell Phones and DirecTV
jetcityimage via Getty Images

AT&T is looking into the possibility of offering cellphone plans subsidized in part by advertisements, company CEO John Stankey told Reuters in an interview. Subscribers will still have to pay the bigger chunk of their bill, but Stankey said he believes there’s a segment of AT&T’s customer base “where given a choice, they would take some load of advertising for a $5 or $10 reduction in their mobile bill.” The CEO also revealed that the carrier could introduce the subsidized plans in a year or two.

There are other companies already offering ad-subsidized products, such as Amazon with its Kindles and phones. Stankey didn’t go into the nitty-gritty of how the offer would work, but based on what he revealed during the interview, it sounds like AT&T plans to serve individual customers with targeted advertisements. The ad-supported version of HBO Max launching next year will serve as key to the new phone plans, since it will provide the company with new advertising inventory. Apparently, the carrier’s engineers are creating “unified customer identifiers” that would allow marketers to recognize users across devices to serve them with relevant ads.

As Reuters notes, the offer could raise privacy concerns in the future as more and more people become wary of how tech giants use their information — especially since AT&T’s advertising marketplace incorporates data from outside the carrier. Stankey himself admitted that he doesn’t know if the company can use that external data for ads “in perpetuity.”

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