Now this is one that we didn’t see coming. Opera
announced Opera Web Pass, a product that will allow mobile operators to “sponsor” users’ mobile data. In other words, you could enjoy free mobile data as long as you’re willing to endure ads from a given sponsor first. The company paying the advertising is paying for your mobile access.
Using the Opera mini browser, you could pull up Web Pass options, select one, and be browsing the web right away. Perhaps you get a one-day unlimited web pass, or a week of Twitter use (sponsored by Twitter), or an hour of Facebook (sponsored by Facebook)--you get the idea.
Mobile operators can also tailor web passes to local use cases and local languages, and the passes could be based on time, content, or a combination of both.
It appears that in addition to “sponsored” web passes, you can pay a small fee for a la carte access, such as $1 for an hour of browsing.
One hitch in this plan--which is certainly intriguing--is that this sort of thing in some ways flies in the face of net neutrality
. Effectively, the keys to the Internet for some mobile users could be in the hands of advertisers such as Coca Cola or Walmart--or worse, the aforementioned Facebook or Twitter. In the latter cases, established sites, services, and apps can offer special Internet access that excludes competitors.
Opera mini holds a relatively small market share, so a de facto violation of net neutrality wouldn’t exactly be a problem, but it is noteworthy that a solution to the high cost of mobile Internet access would rely on it.