AT&T to have app developers pick up bandwidth tab?

Carrier considers system that would allow app publishers to pay for the subscribers' use of apps, according to The Wall Street Journal.

AT&T is considering a new system in which mobile app developers and publishers would pay for the wireless bandwidth associated with using the apps and downloading content.

"A feature that we're hoping to have out sometime next year is the equivalent of 800 numbers that would say, if you take this app, this app will come without any network usage," AT&T executive John Donovan told The Wall Street Journal in an interview at the Mobile World Conference 2012, currently under way in Barcelona, Spain.

AT&T and rival Verizon Wireless have discontinued their unlimited data plans, and subscribers who exceed their monthly allotment face steep overage charges. Cost-conscious customers who might normally be tempted to stream live video might balk at the idea out of concern the download would push them over their limits.

Having developers pick up the cost of bandwidth-intensive content such as streaming video could lighten the burden on wireless subscribers, as well as generate a new revenue stream for the carrier, Donovan said.

"What they're saying is, why don't we go create new revenue streams that don't exist today and find a way to split them," Donovan said.

However, the plan could stratify the app publishing community, squeezing out smaller developers. Also, by allowing companies to pay for customers to have better access to content, the specter of Net neutrality returns.