AT&T is rolling out a sponsored data plan in which the charges for mobile data consumption will become the responsibility of content providers and website owners instead of wireless customers. The service is similar to a 1-800 number or free shipping according to John Donovan, senior executive VP of AT&T Technology and Network Operations.

Aptly named AT&T Sponsored Data, the plan will likely see interest from those in health care, retail, financial services, media and entertainment early on. For example, a business could use the service to encourage people to try a new mobile app, to promote a movie or game trailer, provide healthcare tips via wellness videos or encourage customers to browse mobile shopping sites, just to name a few applications.

In a more real-world example, Netflix could pay AT&T X amount of dollars for Y amount of traffic. That money would be then divided among customers and used to offset the cost of streaming video over a mobile device, effectively encouraging users to keep using Netflix on their tablets and smartphones.

Free data might sound like a good thing to consumers but not everyone is sold on the idea. Public Knowledge consumer advocacy group acting Co-President Michael Weinberg said the plan is simply the latest example of how data caps are increasingly becoming used to threaten the open Internet.

AT&T said the delivery of content involved in the program would not be prioritized over any other data on their network. The only thing that will change under the model, the company said, is that the sponsored content will not impact the user's data plan.