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Sports media giant ESPN has talked with at least one large U.S. carrier about subsidizing wireless access to its content, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal. These discusions could potentially lead to a “toll-free” data plan with carriers and open up new revenue streams for both parties, says Fierce Wireless.

ESPN now has 45 million digital users, including about 16 million that access ESPN content exclusively from mobile devices, according to the Journal. The company’s numerous apps, include WatchESPN, which streams the live signals from ESPN’s TV channels to mobile devices, while ScoreCenter, the company’s top mobile app, has been downloaded more than 40 million times.

Verizon Wireless CEO Dan Mead said that Verizon is “exploring those opportunities and looking at every way to bring value to our customers,” in the context of toll-free data plans, while AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in June 2012, that he thought toll free data plans likely will catch fire in the next 12 months.

Google says there are more than 1 million channels generating revenue on YouTube. Starting today, they’re launching a pilot program to offer paid channels on YouTube with subscription fees starting at $0.99 per month.

But wireless data charges could easily cost more than any subscription fee.

How would carriers find the bandwidth for all this streaming bandwidth? HotSpot 2.0 is a good bet.

Dave Stephenson, Chair of the Wi-Fi Alliance Hotspot 2.0 Technical Task Group does a good job of explaining what Hotspot 2.0 is all about, how it works and why you should care.

But Google might sell more ads with “real” free access. For everyone. Near ubiquitous coverage might be obtained by using 600 MHz spectrum, supplemented by 2.4/2.5 GHz Hotspot 2.0 in urban centers.

As a member of Portland’s Personal Telco, I care about access to free WiFi. I worry that subscription WiFi will force out “free” access points in public spaces such as parks. Members of our group will be biking around Portland’s Sunday Parkway event providing free WiFi access.

Personally, I’d rather have ad-supported wireless broadband. I can’t afford another $30 a month for carrier-run “free” Hotspot 2.0 access. Besides, free hotspots in public parks seems like a no brainer. A few splash page ads could pay for the service and provide security. Try it in a few parks. Risk-free. Get FirstNet to pay for it.

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