T-Mobile Uses Facebook as a Gateway Drug

Anyone who has taken a middle-school health class knows that drug dealers always lurk, offering free samples of crack or PCP to children to get them hooked and turn them into paying customers. Apparently the good people at T-Mobile were paying attention in those classes.

On Monday the company announced that GoSmart, a T-Mobile subsidiary specializing in low-cost, prepaid phone plans, would offer free access to Facebook and Facebook Messenger to all customers, even those who don’t have a data plan. For T-Mobile, the deal has the potential to get people used to using their phones for Internet, then convince them to migrate to a full data plan. GoSmart’s monthly plan with unlimited voice and text service costs $30; adding 5GB of high-speed data costs an additional $15 per month.

Facebook has been interested in such an arrangement for some time as a way to encourage increased use of the service among people who can’t afford costly data plans. When Mark Zuckerberg announced Internet.org, an effort to increase global access to the Internet, one of the core principles was to exempt such services as Facebook and Wikipedia from data plans in low-income countries. The exact terms of the agreement between the companies aren’t clear.

Not everyone loves the idea of Internet providers cutting deals with content companies to provide advantages to some services in reaching customers. Advocates of net neutrality fear that offering preferential treatment will quash innovation; Facebook’s next competitor won’t get free access to GoSmart customers. But regulators in the U.S. generally think that mobile providers should be given wider leverage than physical broadband providers to experiment with plans like this because wireless Internet is so young.

In any case, the deal offers further evidence that T-Mobile is pushing the envelope when it comes to offering novel services in order to lure more customers to its network.

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