ATT, Comcast, Other Internet Service Providers Waive Data Caps as Millions Work from Home During Coronavirus Epidemic

working from home on sofa couch

 

As millions of people are either self-isolating or being told to stay home, and so are working from home, due to Covid-19, Internet providers have announced that they are waiving the data caps that they normally have in place. What this means is that if you are with one of these carriers, you don’t have to worry that you will hit your maximum data usage, and that your data use will be capped and cut off, or restricted.

(Read our other Coronavirus related stories here)

This is an important measure to help ensure that those working from home are able to do so without either interruption, or a decrease in their data speed.


In an interview with Vice, an AT&T executive explained that “Many of our AT&T Internet customers already have unlimited home internet access, and we are waiving internet data overage for the remaining customers.”

Meanwhile, Dana Strong, president of Comcast Cable Consumer Services, posted an announcement on the Comcast website, saying that “As our country continues to manage the COVID-19 emergency, we recognize that our company plays an important role in helping our customers stay connected – to their families, their workplaces, their schools, and the latest information about the virus – through the Internet,” and adding that “We also know that for millions of low-income Americans who don’t have Internet service at home, this uncertain time is going to be even more difficult to manage. As schools and businesses close and families are encouraged, or even mandated, to stay home, Internet connectivity becomes even more important.”

Comcast has offered their Internet Essentials program for lower-income customers for years, providing basic Internet services for just $9.95 per month, as well as offering low cost computers through the program.

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Comcast has said that they will be increasing data speeds to all Internet Essentials Comcast customers at no additional charge, noting that as a Comcast Internet Essentials customer you don’t need to do anything to get the speed increase, it will be pushed to you automatically. Strong also said that, starting on Monday, March 16, 2020, Comcast “will make it even easier for low-income families who live in a Comcast service area to sign up by offering new customers 60 days of complimentary Internet Essentials service, which is normally available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month.”

Additionally, said Strong, “We’ll send all new customers a free self-install kit that includes a cable modem with a Wi-Fi router. There will be no term contract or credit check and no shipping fee.”

To apply for a Comcast Internet Essentials account go to internetessentials.com, or all 855-846-8376 for English and 855-765-6995 for Spanish.

 

Now, it could be that AT&T and Comcast have recognized that they can really make a difference, and are doing this entirely out of altruism. Or, it could be that they have recognized that the pressure for Internet service providers to do these thing is upon them, and rather than drag their feet, they will come out as the among the first, so that they look good, following not one, but two letters from very high places exhorting ISPs to do away with data caps during the Coronacrisis.

Two days ago (March 12th), eighteen United States Senators sent a letter to the CEOs of AT&T, Comcast, Charter, CenturyLink, Cox, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, the full text of which is below, and the most salient part of which includes “No one should be penalized or suffer financial duress for following guidance from the CDC, their employer, local public health officials, or school leaders. Unfortunately, many Americans are subject to restrictive data caps for their home broadband service – caps that could be particularly onerous given the more intensive broadband usage of households practicing social distancing measures and the economic uncertainty for which too many people without paid sick leave are already bracing. {Emphasis ours} While it’s likely that your networks will experience significantly greater traffic as a consequence of social distancing measures, we encourage you to forebear from application of broadband caps and associated fees or throttling as workers and families cope with the effects of this health emergency.”

The letter was signed by Senators Warner, Bennet, Booker, Baldwin, Merkley, Hirono, Murray, Menendez, Reed, Markey, Kaine, Blumenthal, Warren, King, Sanders, Durbin, Wyden, and Peters.

Then, the following day (yesterday) FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, after spending time on the phone with the heads of the various Internet broadband and telecom providers, issued a public challenge memo to those providers, asking them to take the “Keep Americans Connected Pledge.”

What, you may ask, is the Keep Americans Connected Pledge? It is, Pai says, as follows:

The Keep Americans Connected Pledge

Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, (the company) pledges for the next 60 days to:

(1) not terminate 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;

(2) waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and

(3) open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them

According to the memo (full text below), the following companies had already committed to taking the Keep America Connected pledge: ACIRA – Powered by Farmers Mutual Telephone Company & Federated Telephone, Allstream Business US, AlticeUSA, Antietam Broadband, Atlantic Broadband, AT&T, BBT, BOYCOM Vision, Burlington Telecom, Cable One, Central Arkansas Telephone Cooperative, CenturyLink, Charter, Cincinnati Bell, Citizens Connected, Comcast, Consolidated Communications, Cox Communications, Digital West, East Ascension Telephone Company, Education Networks of America, Emery Telecom, Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, FirstLight, Frontier, Google Fiber, Grande Communications, Granite Telecommunications, Great Plains Communications, GWI, Hiawatha Broadband, Hill Country, IdeaTek Telcom, Inteliquent, Lafourche Telephone Company, Lakeland Communications, Long Lines Broadband, Mammoth Networks/Visionary Broadband, Mediacom, MetTel, Nex-Tech, Ninestar Connect, Northwest Fiber, Orbitel Communications, Pioneer Communications, Premier Communications, Range Telephone Cooperative, RCN, Reserve Telephone Company, Sacred Wind Communications, Shawnee Communications, Socket Telecom, Sonic, Sprint, Starry, TDS Telecom, TelNet Worldwide, T-Mobile, TracFone Wireless, Uniti Fiber, US Cellular, Vast Broadband, Verizon, Vyve Broadband Investments, Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom, Wave Broadband, West Telecom Services, Windstream, and ZenFi Networks. And the trade associations ACA Connects, Competitive Carriers of America, CTIA, INCOMPAS, NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom, and WISPA.

Regardless of why AT&T and Comcast were among the first, we applaud them, as we do all of the companies that have pledged to keep America connected during the Coronavirus crisis.

Now the big question is, once this crisis has passed (it will pass, eventually), will they reinstitute data caps, or will that horse be well past the barn door?

[For more articles related to the Coronavirus, see list of state hotlines, Panic-Shaming in the Time of Coronavirus, Coronavirus scams, and definition of an ‘older adult’.]

Here are the texts of the letter and the memo.

Full Text of Letter to Internet Service Providers from 18 Senators

(Original is here.)

Dear Messrs. McElfresh, Esser, Rutledge, Combes, Storey, Legere, Watson, Vestberg:

As organizations around the country formulate their responses to the recent outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, we write to discuss the steps that your company is taking to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services. Specifically, we ask that you temporarily suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by COVID-19 and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost, broadband options for students whose schools close due to COVID-19 who don’t have access at home.

The novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people around the world, and killed more than 4,000 people to date. While this situation is rapidly evolving, including in the United States and Europe, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said the potential public health threat posed by COVID-19 is very high and the spread of the disease in other countries shines a light on the need for a whole-of-society response.

On March 3, 2020, the CDC issued an interim guidance recommending that specific community actions be taken to limit exposure to the virus,[1] on top of previously recommended community-based interventions in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak such as school dismissals, event cancellations, social distancing, and creating employee plans to work remotely.[2] While the spread of COVID-19 is likely to affect different individuals, families, and communities differently, it is increasingly likely that a significant number of Americans will need to practice social distancing in some way.

During this period, it’s likely that we’ll see historic numbers of American students and their teachers relying on data-intensive services such as video teleconferencing, remote learning courses, and virtual mental health services. According to UNESCO, a “record number of school children are not attending school or university because of temporary or indefinite closures mandated by governments.”[3] Selected schools have closed in at least 21 states and that number seems likely to rise as the number of new confirmed cases of COVID-19 increases. According to Education Week, over 1,300,000 students have been impacted thus far.[4] Millions of workers have already begun teleworking in an effort to mitigate the spread of COVID-19; as evidence of the unprecedented demand for telework that we can expect to continue, videoconferencing software company Zoom has already added more active users this year than it did in all of 2019.[5] To effectively contain the disruptive impact that social distancing measures will have on our economy and on American students, it will be essential that these students, teachers, and workers – including patients and providers using telehealth in place of in-person care – have access to affordable broadband.

No one should be penalized or suffer financial duress for following guidance from the CDC, their employer, local public health officials, or school leaders. Unfortunately, many Americans are subject to restrictive data caps for their home broadband service – caps that could be particularly onerous given the more intensive broadband usage of households practicing social distancing measures and the economic uncertainty for which too many people without paid sick leave are already bracing. While it’s likely that your networks will experience significantly greater traffic as a consequence of social distancing measures, we encourage you to forebear from application of broadband caps and associated fees or throttling as workers and families cope with the effects of this health emergency.

These disruptions are also likely to acutely highlight the broadband gap that too many American households still face. According to some estimates, nearly one-third of American households lack meaningful broadband access, either because their homes are unserved or because they cannot afford broadband service.[6] Nearly 12 million children, for instance, live in homes lacking a broadband connection— a gap that highlights wider inequities facing rural Americans, American communities of color, and economically disadvantaged communities.[7] Without meaningful broadband access, students from these communities could be set back months in their learning – further exacerbating the socio-economic disparities these communities face. To that end, we encourage you to make efforts to work with local school districts, community colleges, and universities to provide under- and unserved households with free, or at-cost, broadband options, including through the provision of mobile hotspots.

We look forward to hearing swiftly from you about what steps you will take to help limit the economic and social disruption that COVID-19 is posing at this challenging time. Containing the health impact of COVID-19 will depend on observance of social distancing measures outlined by CDC and public health authorities. But containing the economic and social impact of COVID-19 requires a whole-of-society effort. At this time of great strain on our economic and education systems, we encourage you to do everything you can to cushion the impacts on American workers and students.

Thank you in advance for your prompt attention to this matter. We are anxious to hear your response.

Full Text of Memo from Chairman Ajit Pai

(Original is here.)

CHAIRMAN PAI LAUNCHES THE KEEP AMERICANS CONNECTED PLEDGE

Pai Calls on Broadband and Telephone Service Providers to Promote Connectivity for Americans Impacted by the Disruptions Caused by the Coronavirus Pandemic

Yesterday, in multiple phone calls with broadband and telephone service providers and trade associations, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai emphasized the importance of keeping Americans connected as the country experiences serious disruptions caused by the coronavirus outbreak. And in order to ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity as a result of these exceptional circumstances, he specifically asked them to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge.

The Keep Americans Connected Pledge reads as follows:

Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] pledges for the next 60 days to:

(1) not terminate 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;

(2) waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and

(3) open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

 

Less than 24 hours after the Chairman’s calls, the following companies have already told Chairman Pai that they are taking the Keep Americans Connected Pledge and will implement it as soon as possible: ACIRA – Powered by Farmers Mutual Telephone Company & Federated Telephone, Allstream Business US, AlticeUSA, Antietam Broadband, Atlantic Broadband, AT&T, BBT, BOYCOM Vision, Burlington Telecom, Cable One, Central Arkansas Telephone Cooperative, CenturyLink, Charter, Cincinnati Bell, Citizens Connected, Comcast, Consolidated Communications, Cox Communications, Digital West, East Ascension Telephone Company, Education Networks of America, Emery Telecom, Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, FirstLight, Frontier, Google Fiber, Grande Communications, Granite Telecommunications, Great Plains Communications, GWI, Hiawatha Broadband, Hill Country, IdeaTek Telcom, Inteliquent, Lafourche Telephone Company, Lakeland Communications, Long Lines Broadband, Mammoth Networks/Visionary Broadband, Mediacom, MetTel, Nex-Tech, Ninestar Connect, Northwest Fiber, Orbitel Communications, Pioneer Communications, Premier Communications, Range Telephone Cooperative, RCN, Reserve Telephone Company, Sacred Wind Communications, Shawnee Communications, Socket Telecom, Sonic, Sprint, Starry, TDS Telecom, TelNet Worldwide, T-Mobile, TracFone Wireless, Uniti Fiber, US Cellular, Vast Broadband, Verizon, Vyve Broadband Investments, Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom, Wave Broadband, West Telecom Services, Windstream, and ZenFi Networks. And the trade associations ACA Connects, Competitive Carriers of America, CTIA, INCOMPAS, NCTA—The Internet and Television Association, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom, and WISPA have all endorsed the pledge.

“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. Broadband will enable them to communicate with their loved ones and doctors, telework, ensure their children can engage in remote learning, and—importantly—take part in the ‘social distancing’ that will be so critical to limiting the spread of this novel coronavirus,” said Chairman Pai. “That’s why I’m asking all broadband and telephone service providers to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. I don’t want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity.”

“I applaud those companies that have already taken the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. They are stepping up to the plate and taking critical steps that will make it easier for Americans to stay connected during this pandemic and maintain much-needed social distancing. I urge other companies to join them. This may be a difficult time for our nation, but if we all work together, I am confident that we can rise to the challenge.”

In addition to the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, Chairman Pai commended companies that have already taken additional steps to ensure that Americans, especially low-income American families and veterans, remain connected. He exhorted those companies with low-income broadband programs like the Connect2Compete program to expand and improve them (for example, by increasing speeds to 25/3 Mbps and expanding eligibility) and those without to adopt such programs. He also called on broadband providers to relax their data cap policies in appropriate circumstances, on telephone carriers to waive long-distance and overage fees in appropriate circumstances, on those that serve schools and libraries to work with them on remote learning opportunities, and on all network operators to prioritize the connectivity needs of hospitals and healthcare providers.

Chairman Pai also continued the Commission’s ongoing discussions with service providers regarding their efforts to ensure that changes in usage patterns occurring during the pandemic do not impair network performance, as well as their plans to ensure network resiliency.

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ATT, Comcast, Other Internet Service Providers Waive Data Caps as Millions Work from Home During Coronavirus Epidemic
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ATT, Comcast, Other Internet Service Providers Waive Data Caps as Millions Work from Home During Coronavirus Epidemic
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As Americans start staying and working from home in droves due to the Coronavirus, some Internet providers are removing data caps and boosting speed.

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