AT&T May Put Ads on Phones in Exchange for Discount

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All of us know the stress of the mobile bill arriving every month. It can be so expensive, and if you have a family where each member has a phone, forget it — it becomes ridiculously expensive. AT&T wants to help with that, providing a small $5 or $10 discount, but you’ll have to put up with ads to get that small savings.

AT&T Plan for Giving Discount to Show Ads

“I believe there’s a segment of our customer base where given a choice, they would take some load of advertising for a $5 or $10 reduction in their mobile bill,” said AT&T CEO John Stankey in an interview with Reuters.

Stankey said AT&T’s phone plans that would include ads in exchange for a discount could be available in “a year or two.” The company is already doing work on its targeted-ad system to provide a greater value to the end user. The company’s engineers are creating “unified customer identifiers.” This would allow advertisers to identify users that would appreciate the marketing.

AT&T acquired the huge Time Warner Inc. in 2018, leaving it in control of HBO. Stankey said an ad-supported version of HBO Max would take on a key role in the ad-supported phone plans.

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He added that his company is not the first to try ad-supported phone plans. “Various companies, including Amazon, Virgin Mobile USA, and Sprint’s Boost Mobile, have tested advertising-supported phone services since the early 2000s, but they have not caught on. AT&T is hoping that better advertising targeting could revive the idea,” explained Stankey.

Through the U.S. government’s Lifeline program, AT&T already offers subsidized plans to customers with low incomes. However, this is offered regionally and not widely available.

AT&T’s Previous Forays into Displaying Ads

In 2015, AT&T tried offering ads in exchange for a discount before on its Internet service. Customers opting into the plan had to agree to allow the company to analyze their web browsing, and this delivered targeted ads to their browsers. Customers who didn’t opt in paid a more premium price. The program was ended after just a year, and in 2018, AT&T bought an advertising company that delivers personalized ads.

AT&T pitched its desire to acquire Time Warner Inc. to U.S. government officials in 2017, pushing “more relevant advertising in ad-supported video services” as a primary benefit of the merger.

A few months earlier in December 2016, then-CEO Randall Stephenson told Congress, “We expect to deliver mobile-optimized content and services and ad-supported services that shift more costs from consumers to advertisers.”

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However, the government at the time had imposed limits on telecoms’ use of personal data for advertising, requiring ISPs to get consent from consumers first. Later in 2017, that was lifted by the new president.

Not only did the government’s attitude change with its leader, AT&T’s did as well. Stephenson said in 2017 that the company would use a corporate tax break to create 7,000 jobs for “people putting fiber in [the] ground.” Stankey has changed that, however, putting a cap on fiber expansions, reducing capital expenditures on its networks, and laying off thousands of employees, as well as other cost-saving measures.

And now AT&T wants to give customers a $5 to $10 discount in exchange for ads on their phones. It seems to be something the company has been pushing for a while, especially after Stankey came on board.

AT&T could be busy over the next few years. Along with those plans, a recent test showed that its 5G service is testing slower than 4G. It seems like it needs more work still.

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.

One comment

  1. “I believe there’s a segment of our customer base where given a choice, they would take some load of advertising for a $5 or $10 reduction in their mobile bill,” said AT&T CEO John Stankey

    I think that AT&T CEO John Stankey has badly underestimated just how much people hate ads. After all, there’s 4 decades worth of devices that can record TV shows, and more than 2 decades of TV shows on DVD’s, to prove my point…being able to skip over ads, or not having ads to begin with, is the biggest reason those things exist.

    If I lived in the US…well, I wouldn’t live in the US, since its President is determined to kill its citizens. But if AT&T offered me ads with only a *five dollar* discount, I’d tell them to keep their discount and their ads…ads suck!!

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