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US wireless carriers hide behind masks (and that's a good thing)

All of the big US wireless network operators say they are requiring all their retail store employees – and all the customers who visit their stores – to wear a mask.

The effort is intended to stem the spread of COVID-19. But, unfortunately, the mask issue has gained some political overtones, with the US president seemingly unable to acknowledge the undeniable connection between wearing a mask and preventing the spread of coronavirus. Moreover, masks don't appear to be completely ubiquitous in the US wireless retail environment, despite mask requirements from the biggest providers.

To be sure, most, if not all, of the big US wireless providers are requiring employees to wear marks in their company-owned stores. "Masks are required to be worn by employees, customers and visitors in our stores (both in-store and curbside) and will be provided to customers who need them," an AT&T official wrote in response to my questions on the topic.

"Our retail employees are required to wear a mask or face covering while on the job, and we are also requiring all customers to wear a facial covering when entering our stores," wrote a representative from Comcast (which offers wireless service to a growing number of customers via its Xfinity Mobile MVNO).

Officials from T-Mobile and Verizon offered similar statements. A representative from Charter – which operates the Spectrum Mobile wireless brand – said only that employees would be required to wear masks. That's noteworthy considering Charter's reportedly sluggish response to the pandemic in March.

Regardless, mask requirements among wireless retail employees and shoppers is undoubtedly a bright idea, and one that's becoming increasingly de rigueur in the retail environment.

But that doesn't mean every store that sells mobile phones and services in the US currently requires a mask. For example, Wave7 Research analyst Jeff Moore said that masks are not required in all prepaid wireless stores.

Indeed, a Light Reading reader recently complained that there were no masks to be seen at a Verizon store in Grand Haven, Michigan. "I was so disgusted," the reader wrote. "The manager said the WHO [World Health Organization] didn't require masks so they didn't have to wear them."

A Verizon representative confirmed to Light Reading the store is owned by a third-party retailer – a common situation in the US wireless retail space.

Employees at the Verizon store at Grand Haven declined to discuss the situation with me, and would not provide contact information for the owner of the store. (This comes as no surprise – I never received instructions on dealing with the press in any of the retail jobs I've held – and to be clear they were courteous during the entire exchange.)

Instead, the employees urged me to look up contact information for the store's owner on Google.

I did, and found a company called TCC runs that Verizon store, along with many others. According to the company's coronavirus information page, "all employees have received a face mask and are strongly encouraged to wear it in-store. We are following state guidelines for locations where it is mandatory."

In conclusion, I'll simply pull a relevant quote from Batman:

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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