MetroPCS, the 5th largest wireless carrier in the United States, has announced a new pricing structure that requires customers to pay extra to access video services other than YouTube, audio including Pandora or any VOIP service, over their mobile devices. GigaOm's Ryan Kim says the move raises "the specter of consumers paying more for certain kinds of content and the potential for a fractured Internet experience, where users may not be free to jump easily from one site to another."

This could be a key move in the struggle over network neutrality or tiered pricing by content type.

MetroPCS's estimated 6.6 million customers will be given a range of discounted data options, from $40 through $60 per month. Though the $40 per month plan allows unlimited web page browsing and YouTube viewing, and admittedly comes with no contract required, you'll need to pay more to access other types of media. As the company explains, "With the $50 and $60 service plans, consumers have more data access service choices to better fit their actual usage of certain streaming audio and video content, real-time Internet gaming, music and video downloads and other media applications."

The prospect of paying $40 per month for mobile data access and only being allowed to view online video or listen to online audio from a selected list of sources is just repugnant though, isn't it?
"What this all means," Kim writes at GigaOm,
"is that users can browse Facebook all day long and could click on any YouTube links to see the video. But if they click on a link to another video service, users can visit the site but won't be able to view the video. Facebook videos are also likely blocked as are streaming music services such as Pandora. [MetroPCS spokesperson Drew Crowell] said YouTube doesn't have a special relationship with MetroPCS. It was just one of the most popular multimedia sites among MetroPCS consumers so the carrier decided to allow unlimited access to it."

Does that sound fair to you? I must confess, when Google and Verizon made a joint announcement this Summer about Net Neutrality and excluded wireless from their support of it, I didn't think it unreasonable. (I was nearly alone in this, too, I think.)

I think I may have been wrong. Seeing a wireless network put tiered pricing into play makes me feel pretty ill. For some silly reason, I didn't think they would really do it. The prospect of paying $40 per month for mobile data access and only being allowed to view online video or listen to online audio from a selected list of sources is just repugnant though, isn't it?

Here's how GigaOm's Ryan Kim puts it:

These new plans, if they're allowed to stand, show us what the future of mobile broadband will look like if operators have their way. It could be a frustrating experience for users, recreating a walled garden. It's not surprising that MetroPCS is trying to push this agenda. Most operators would stand to gain a lot if they can get this type of plan to fly. Eventually, I expect MetroPCS won't be the only operator looking to lay down new toll layers atop the mobile Internet.

Related: British Telecom is working on something very similar, called Content Connect.