That’s the glass-half-full version of how things could turn out for consumers. This new conglomerate of telecom and media finds a way to bring streaming video offerings to people who previously couldn’t afford them, and that forces competitors like Verizon, Comcast, andNetflix to offer more in turn. “Ultimately, we think we’ll be competing head to head with the cable companies with a wireless offer,” said Stephenson. “We can hit those kind of price points, combine it with this kind of content, we think this is exciting.”
Potential cons for consumers
The dark version of things is a world in which telecom companies continue buying up the major content creators and make it difficult to access that media on competitors’ networks. Regulators would no doubt take a hard look at this, but mobile carriers are already testing the waters. Verizon has paid to bring its subscribers the NFL for free, and even prevents users on AT&T’s network from accessing games they can authenticate with a cable subscription. We’re also seeing this world emerge in the market for streaming music, where major artists are increasingly signing deals that make their music exclusive to Apple or Tidal.
Walled gardens of content tied to your mobile network is one nightmare scenario. The destruction of net neutrality in a world of mobile broadband is another. Right now T-Mobile uses the lure of free data, offering its subscribers the ability to listen to music without eating up any of their monthly data allowance. AT&T could do the same for people who want to stream HBO or CNN on their network.
It’s easy to argue that locking certain content to certain networks hurts consumers. If AT&T made HBO available only on its mobile network, as Verizon did with the NFL in the example above, consumers would be angry and the FCC would likely get involved. It’s more difficult to make the nuanced case that consumers are hurt by zero-rating gimmicks like T-Mobile’s Music unlimited, or a world where AT&T provides unlimited access to HBO and CNN with your monthly mobile subscription.