DIRECTV satellite Dishes


AT&T said on Tuesday that it plans to make DirecTV available over the Internet in the fourth quarter of this year, saying the new offerings "will not require annual contracts, satellite dishes, or set-top boxes."

The service won't be a full replacement for traditional cable or satellite TV, though, because AT&T has to negotiate new programming contracts for the online-only service. AT&T has "signed some deals" but still has "work to do, " a company spokesperson said, according to The Wall Street Journal. The service will work on smartphones, tablets, Internet-connected TVs, "streaming media hardware, " and PCs, AT&T said.

AT&T's press release said the online packages will include "on-demand and live programming from many networks, plus premium add-on options, " but it did not name any major networks. The only specific programming the announcement mentioned was AT&T's own Audience Network and Otter Media, a joint venture run by AT&T and The Chernin Group. No prices or specific packages were announced, either. But AT&T said there will be three tiers: one with full access for use on either wired or wireless Internet services, a cheaper one geared toward smartphones, and a free, ad-supported service with a selection of DirecTV video.

One remaining question is whether AT&T will "zero-rate" the service so that it doesn't count against data caps for customers who are also AT&T Internet subscribers. An AT&T spokesperson declined to answer that question, telling Ars, "We will discuss more product specifics when the offers launch."

AT&T could be waiting for the outcome of the Federal Communications Commission's examination of zero-rating. The FCC's net neutrality rules don't specifically outlaw zero-rating, but the commission is trying to determine whether certain types of zero-rating implementations give unfair advantages to Internet service providers or content providers that are granted data cap exemptions, sometimes in exchange for payment.

AT&T already has a Sponsored Data program that charges third parties, such as advertisers, for the right to deliver data without counting against consumers' mobile data caps. Verizon, meanwhile, launched its own mobile video service that doesn't count against its subscribers' data caps, even as content from Netflix, YouTube, and other online streaming providers do use up customers' data.