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T-Mobile Says: Your Online Radio Listening is now Free


Remember when some broadcasters dismissed online radio, arguing it would never catch on because the data plan caps would keep a lid on demand and discourage ongoing use of the platforms?

Well, I and others long ago revealed the flaws in that argument based strictly on the relatively thin data requirements of audio streams (especially when compared to the real data hog: Video).

But now comes a new statement from underdog mobile provider T-Mobile: Stream all the music you want – data charges do not apply.*

Yes, the all-you-can-eat buffet for streaming radio fans has arrived!

Last week, T-Mobile introduced (from ArsTechnica)…

…a program they’re calling Music Freedom, under which songs from certain streaming music providers no longer count against customers’ monthly data cap. The provider list includes Pandora, Rhapsody, iHeartRadio, iTunes Radio, Slacker, and Spotify, as well as a few others, like Samsung’s Milk. T-Mobile customers will also be able to vote on the Music Freedom site about other music services from which they’d also like to stream “for free.”

Now let’s call this what it is: A PR stunt. And one that appeals primarily to the fraction of streaming music consumers who feel constrained by the cost and/or limits of their data plans.

Still, we should never underestimate the power of the word “free.” And this could become something of a trend. Given that some handset-makers are monetizing streaming radio platforms directly and indirectly, it makes less sense to cap usage than to open usage and monetize the value of the data – what it brings to you – rather than the data itself.

After all, it’s what the data enables that creates its value. Not the sheer tonnage of bandwidth itself.

In fact, to the device-makers, each mobile phone is the equivalent of what terrestrial broadcasters would call a broadcast tower: A piece of hardware they built and own through which content flows that the hardware-owner monetizes through advertising, licensing, subscription, or some combination of all three.

So the point isn’t that every mobile phone service provider will necessarily follow suit and make their streaming bandwidth free. It’s that we should not assume they won’t.

To consumers, it’s all about value. And service providers will do what they can to jockey for advantage and prove their value to consumers who have choices – even to consumers who make the cheapest and easiest choice of all right now: Radio.

(*Technically, “free” does not preclude T-Mobile from throttling speed for super-heavy users, but good luck in communicating that potential downside to consumers, critics)

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