America is responding to the COVID-19 (“Coronavirus”) global pandemic. Many schools, governments, and businesses are quickly shifting to remote work and learning environments. These forms of business and communications rely on critical telecommunications infrastructure in our communities.
In response to the unprecedented Coronavirus threat, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) and telecommunications providers have implemented immediate changes to service and billing protocols. Here are resources for municipal representatives and citizens:
(1) The FCC’s Keep America Connected Pledge
FCC Chairman Pai introduced a new broadband and telecom industry measure on March 13, 2020 called the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, which is designed to rein in any potential abuses from US internet service providers during the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.
The pledge, which is for the next 60 days, asks that companies not terminate service for residential or small business customers, waive any late fees incurred due to the economic effects of the virus, and open access to public Wi-Fi hotspots to “any American who needs them.”
So far, the FCC says that virtually every major telecom company in the United States has committed to the pledge, including AT&T, Charter, CenturyLink, Comcast, Cox, Sonic, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon.
(2) Major Carriers Offer Payments and Late Fee Waivers
US broadband and telecom companies are offering payment and late fee waivers to residential and business customers.
Comcast is pausing data caps for all customers. Comcast announced, “with so many people working and educating from home, we want our customers to access the internet without thinking about data plans. While the vast majority of our customers do not come close to using 1TB of data in a month, we are pausing our data plans for 60 days giving all customers Unlimited data for no additional charge.”
Comcast is waiving late fees for customers, but you must contact Comcast. According to Comcast/ Xfinity, “if you have been impacted by quarantines or closures and need more time to pay your bill, you can easily schedule a payment on a date that’s convenient for you. View “Bill and Payment Settings” in the account dashboard at xfinity.com/myaccount.” For questions about Comcast Business billing, network reliability, and business continuity planning, please see Comcast’s COVID-19 Business Information Page.
Comcast is also offering free internet access for everyone via XFinity WiFi hotspots across the country. For a map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots, visit www.xfinity.com/wifi. Once at a hotspot, consumers should select the “xfinitywifi” network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser.
Comcast is providing its discounted “Internet Essentials” broadband plan. The discounted “Internet Essentials” offer is available to anyone who is eligible for public assistance programs like SNAP, Medicaid or the National School Lunch program. To qualify, individuals must also live in an area where Comcast service is already available and must not have any outstanding debt to the company that is less than a year old. (Apply online at https://internetessentials.com/ or call 1-855-8-INTERNET (1-855-846-8376). Normal Hours of operation are from 8 AM to Midnight (EST), seven days a week.)
Comcast announced, “new customers will receive 60 days of complimentary Internet Essentials service, which is normally available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month. Additionally, for all new and existing Internet Essentials customers, the speed of the program’s Internet service was increased to 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. That increase will go into effect for no additional fee and it will become the new base speed for the program going forward.” This speed increase will happen automatically – no action is required by customers.
Comcast has put together information and educational content for children schooling from home. Comcast says, “For those with school-age students at home, we’ve created new educational collections for all grade levels in partnership with Common Sense Media. Just say “education” into your X1 or Flex voice remote.”
Comcast has also curated COVID-19 news. “To help keep customers informed, Comcast has also created a collection of the most current news and information on Coronavirus. Just say “Coronavirus” into your X1 or Flex voice remote.”
Verizon is waiving late fees for customers and small businesses. For the next 60 days, Verizon announced it will, “waive late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus. In addition, the company will not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus.”
If you have questions or need assistance regarding your Verizon account, contact Verizon directly by telephone or your account online. Please note, Verizon will reduce the number of stores that remain open during the coronavirus outbreak.
Charter is offering limited discounts in response to households affected by the Coronavirus. Charter announced that, “beginning Monday, March 16, 2020, the company will offer two free months of internet and WiFi services to new customers in households with Pre-K to 12 or college students who need remote education. This discount will be applied as a credit for the first two months of internet services.” Further, Charter says it will waive any installation or pre-payment fees.
Charter customers can qualify for this offer if they: “(1) Have a student of qualifying age at your service address with remote education needs; (2) Have not subscribed to Charter internet services within the past 30 days.” To sign up for this order, customers must call 1-855-243-8892.
Charter also said it will partner with school districts, “to ensure local communities are aware of these tools to help students learn remotely.” In addition, the operator will open its Wi-Fi hotspots across its nationwide network footprint for public use, free of charge. Charter does not impose broadband limits or data caps.
SERVICE ELECTRIC CABLEVISION
Service Electric Cablevision has suspended monthly data plan usage-based billing for all Internet tiers. In addition, Service Electric Cablevision is waiving late payment fees and working with customers on payment arrangements.
All Service Electric Cablevision office lobbies and drive-thru windows will be closed at 7 pm on 3/16/20 until further notice. Service Electric Cablevision staff is available by phone (877-955-7328) and web chat. Service Electric Cablevision recommends that customers fully utilize their online tools, as well as their interactive phone system, when possible.
AT&T has confirmed that it is waiving broadband data fees for residential customers. Vice News confirms this statement from AT&T, “Many of our AT&T Internet customers already have unlimited home internet access, and we are waiving internet data overage for the remaining customers,” a company spokesperson said.
T-Mobile is expanding network capacity to increase bandwidth for rural subscribers. Ars Technica reports, “T-Mobile will borrow spectrum in the 600MHz band from Dish, Comcast, and other companies to boost mobile bandwidth during the coronavirus pandemic. The Federal Communications Commission yesterday granted T-Mobile temporary authority to use the spectrum for the next 60 days.”
In addition to helping people work at home, the FCC said that “T-Mobile also indicated that this authority would enable it to be prepared to meet the needs of first responders.”
In a blog post on March 14, 2020, T-Mobile said it “expect[s] to rapidly place this additional spectrum into service within days” of receiving FCC approval. “We’ve also expanded roaming access for Sprint customers to use the T-Mobile network,” T-Mobile said. “With expanded roaming access [at] tens of thousands of locations nationwide, schools and families connected to Sprint’s network will have expanded coverage and capacity—including in rural areas—over the next 60 days.”
T-Mobile announced on March 13, 2020 that it is suspending data caps for 60 days, upgrading everyone to unlimited data. T-Mobile said it is also giving all customers “an additional 20GB of mobile hotspot/tethering service for the next 60 days.” Sprint is taking identical steps.
Last updated: 3/18/20.