Say Goodbye to Mobile Data Fees?

Do our eyes deceive us? A wireless company looking for ways to lower our smartphone bills?

Verizon Communications, the second-biggest U.S. phone company, is talking with media companies about ways to have them pay some of the costs associated with delivering television shows and other digital content to Verizon's mobile customers, as my colleague Anthony Palazzo reported from Los Angeles. If this seems like a familiar issue - a big Internet company trying to convince content providers to pay more for delivering high-bandwidth material - indeed it is. Friction over who pays what on the Internet is at the heart of the "net neutrality" debate, which centers on the argument that network operators should treat all legitimate traffic equally and not prioritize some types of data over others.

But these Verizon talks come with a twist: The rise of the smartphone has changed the equation of what many media companies are willing to tolerate from the Internet providers carrying their content.

Some large television networks and movie studios might actually now want to pay up to get mobile users to watch more of their stuff, since users' concerns about running up wireless bills crimps the ability to sell ads. If such a deal were struck, it would represent a significant shift in the way we pay for mobile service - especially important for developing countries that are just getting smartphones and grappling with how to afford high data fees.

This doesn't mean anyone's smartphone bill is going away anytime soon. However, if media companies essentially start paying users to watch their stuff by subsidizing mobile data use, it would give a whole new meaning to "must-see TV."

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