CTIA: Free Data Services Rate With Millennials

Young people like free stuff, and they are likely to follow the "no money" as it were.

That is according to a new survey commissioned by CTIA, which represents wireless ISPs.

A majority of wireless customers say they want new free data services that don't count against their data plans, the study found.

The FCC is currently vetting several so-called zero-rating services as it decides whether they are pro-competitive, consumer-friendly, innovative ways to differentiate service and help customers or anticompetitive violations of its new network neutrality general conduct standard, or perhaps either depending on the specific fact set.

CTIA says its study found that 94% of millennials (the key 18-34 demo) were extremely likely/more likely to try an online service if it was free. To the point about differentiating service, 98% were extremely/more likely to stay with their current provider if it offered such a service and 77% were extremely/more likely to sign with a new wireless provider that offered them free data. The numbers were slightly lower but still strong for all adults at 84%, 93% and 65%, respectively.

"It is no surprise that Americans embrace free data services that offer wireless consumers more data, more competitive choices and more flexibility to try new mobile applications and content," said CTIA president Meredith Attwell Baker. "Free data services empower consumers with the freedom to choose what works for their mobile life, and that’s an outcome that everyone should support."

The basic question was asked this way: "Some wireless providers offer 'free data' where consumers can enjoy video, audio, websites, and apps free from data charges or allowances. Numerous online streaming services (like Netflix or Spotify), participate in these 'free data' offerings where instead of the consumer paying for the data incurred from using these online services, companies or carriers cover those data costs to introduce new offerings, attract subscribers, and meet users' demands for online content."

The respondents were then asked, "given that," what they thought about free data and how it would impact their use and choices.

The study was conducted Feb.26-29 online by Harris. Appropriately, it was on online poll—of 2,082 U.S. adults. Because they were invited to participate (selected from a pool who have agreed to participate in Harris polls), there is no margin of error calculation, according to Harris.

On the other side of the issue, zero-rating plan foes got together two weeks ago to collect signatures on a letter they sent to FCC chairman Tom Wheeler urging him to crack down on zero-rating plans before they "break the Net."

Those groups appear to have no doubt the practice violates both the spirit and the letter of the new FCC Open Internet rules.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.