Dozens of large and small US broadband service providers have gotten behind a "Keep Americans Connected Pledge," led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, that's aimed at keeping broadband service and network disruptions at a minimum amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Per the 60-day pledge, those service providers, which include major providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T as well as newer players such as Starry, have agreed to the following:
- To suspend the termination of service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic;
- To waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and
- To open Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.
Pai also lauded companies that have already taken additional steps to ensure that low-income US families and veterans remain connected. Among examples this week, Comcast announced it will offer 60 days of free Internet Essentials service for low-income households while raising speeds on that offering to 25 Mbit/s down and 3 Mbit/s up, and Charter Communications has committed to provide 60 days of complementary broadband and Wi-Fi access (up to 100 Mbit/s) to homes with students without a broadband subscription from the MSO.
Update (6:45 p.m. EST): Comcast announced additional elements to its COVID-19 response early Friday evening, including the opening up of Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots; pausing the cable operator's data plan (1 terabyte per month) for 60 days; teaming with Common Sense Media on "education collections" about COVID-19 for school-age students via Comcast's X1 and Xfinity Flex platforms; a collection of current news and info on COVID-19 (also accessible when customers say, "Coronavirus" into the voice X1 or Flex voice remote); and 24/7 network monitoring of the load on the network on a local and national basis.
Also on Friday, Altice USA said it will extend access to its Altice Advantage program (30 Mbit/s) for free for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students that might be displaced due to school closures or don't have home Internet access. Altice USA noted that this also applies to any new customer household within its footprint.
Pai also called on broadband providers to "relax" their data cap policies in appropriate circumstances and asked phone service providers to waive long-distance and overage fees. Notably, AT&T announced it is currently waiving Internet data overage for customers on usage-based service plans.
Update (5 p.m. EST): AT&T said its waiving of usage policies applies to both its Internet wireline and fixed wireless Internet customers. The telco is also offering Cisco Webex Meetings for 90 days to businesses, universities and schools, and is crediting wireless customers for charges incurred while in CDC Level-3 countries where AT&T offers service.
The FCC Chairman said the Commission will also stay in touch with service providers on efforts to ensure that changes in usage patterns occurring during the pandemic do not impair network performance, and will likewise press them on plans to ensure network resiliency.
"As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected," Pai said in a statement. "I don't want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity."
Pai announced Friday the following service providers have committed to the core components of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge:
- ACIRA – Powered by Farmers Mutual Telephone Company & Federated Telephone
- Allstream Business US
- Antietam Broadband
- Atlantic Broadband
- BOYCOM Vision
- Burlington Telecom
- Cable One
- Central Arkansas Telephone Cooperative
- Cincinnati Bell
- Citizens Connected
- Consolidated Communications
- Cox Communications
- Digital West
- East Ascension Telephone Company
- Education Networks of America
- Emery Telecom, Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative
- Google Fiber
- Grande Communications
- Granite Telecommunications
- Great Plains Communications
- GWI, Hiawatha Broadband
- Hill Country
- IdeaTek Telcom
- Lafourche Telephone Company
- Lakeland Communications
- Long Lines Broadband
- Mammoth Networks/Visionary Broadband
- Mediacom Communications
- Ninestar Connect
- Northwest Fiber
- Orbitel Communications
- Pioneer Communications
- Premier Communications
- Range Telephone Cooperative
- Reserve Telephone Company
- Sacred Wind Communications
- Shawnee Communications
- Socket Telecom
- TDS Telecom
- TelNet Worldwide
- TracFone Wireless
- Uniti Fiber
- US Cellular
- Vast Broadband
- Vyve Broadband Investments
- Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom
- Wave Broadband
- West Telecom Services
- ZenFi Networks
The following trade associations also endorsed the pledge: ACA Connects, Competitive Carriers of America, CTIA, INCOMPAS, NCTA–The Internet and Television Association, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom and WISPA.
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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading