AT&T’s two-sided internet plan Sponsored Data falls under the FCC’s gaze

Federal Communications Chairman Tom Wheeler says he is keeping a close eye on AT&T’s(s t) controversial Sponsored Data plan, but whether the regulatory agency will step in remains to be seen.

Announced earlier this week at CES, Sponsored Data would allow content providers and app developers to pay the data charges their customers rack up while using their services. The idea is to create a toll-free mobile internet for certain types of content – namely the companies that can afford to pay for it. The implications or such a model on the internet and net neutrality will be far reaching, but even at Gigaom we’re not in agreement as to what they might be, as these two separate posts from Om Malik and Stacey Higginbotham show.

At a talk at CES, Wheeler said while he isn’t rushing to his own judgment, according to a Washington Post report.

“My attitude is, let’s take a look at what this is,” Wheeler said. “Let’s take a look at how it operates. … If it interferes with the operation of the Internet … if it develops into an anti-competitive practice … if it does have some kind of preferential treatment given somewhere, then that is cause for us to intervene.”

Whether Wheeler can actually intervene is the question. The FCC’s authority to regulate network neutrality on the wireline internet is already being whittled away by the courts, and under the FCC’s own policies, wireless carriers are exempt from net neutrality rules.