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AT&T exempts HBO Max from mobile data caps

AT&T owns WarnerMedia, which owns HBO.
Marc DeAngelis
June 2, 2020
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ANKARA, TURKEY - JUNE 1: In this illustration photo HBO Max logos are displayed on a mobile phone and a laptop screen in Ankara, Turkey on June 1, 2020. (Photo by Dogukan Keskinkilic/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Streaming companies have to pay mobile carriers -- such as AT&T -- if they don’t want traffic from their services to affect users’ data caps. AT&T owns HBO, though, so the conglomerate would be paying itself if it didn’t want its new HBO Max service to do so. The company has confirmed to The Verge that data from HBO Max will be exempted from customers’ traditional data caps or the soft data caps that come with “unlimited” plans.

The Verge spoke to an AT&T executive who says that the aforementioned fee is an expense for HBO Max, but is revenue for AT&T Mobility, so the two cancel each other out. If another streaming service, such as Netflix, were to pay the fee, it would only count as a cost. No other streaming companies pay the fee, and therefore, all traffic from Netflix, Hulu and others counts against data caps. This could give AT&T and HBO Max an unfair advantage in the streaming wars.

Such a structure is what net neutrality was supposed to prevent. AT&T is effectively punishing its mobile customers for using competing services. Those who use apps other than HBO Max may want to download shows and movies to their devices so that they avoid hitting their data caps. It remains to be seen how other mobile carriers and streaming services will react to AT&T’s strategy. Hopefully the customer comes out on top in the end.

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