Top US providers pledge to help maintain Internet access during coronavirus outbreak
Top U.S. internet providers including AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile are pledging to help people maintain internet access during the new coronavirus outbreak, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and companies announced on Friday.
The telecom giants are signing onto the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected Pledge,” an effort to ensure those affected by the virus and potentially unable to pay their bills due to financial disruption will still have access to the internet as more and more people are asked to work from their computers and phones at home.
“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,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (R) in a statement. “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.”
The FCC said it has been engaged in conversations with the top telecom companies as well as smaller internet providers across the country, many of which signed onto the pledge.
By signing onto the pledge, the companies have agreed to not terminate service to any customers who are unable to pay their bills due to “disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic” over the next 60 days. That includes people whose workplaces have shut down due to the virus or workers who are out of a job as the country dramatically transitions into self-quarantines and away from public gatherings.
The companies have also agreed to waive any late fees and open up their Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.
The broadband industry has been under enormous pressure to take action to ensure all Americans maintain access to the internet as teleworking becomes more important than ever.
On Thursday night, 12 members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee urged some of the country’s top communications providers to extend their services to people without access to the internet, who are likely to find themselves left behind and suffer severe consequences amid the teleworking frenzy. The lawmakers, led by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.), wrote they are “concerned about the impact [COVID-19] will have on Americans across the country, especially those who are on the wrong side of the digital divide.”
US Telecom, one of the industry’s top trade groups, in letters to the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate Commerce Committee on Friday, wrote they are “laser focused on making sure the innovative networks they built and manage are ready to accommodate a prolonged reliance on telework, distance learning and other forms of high bandwidth remote communications.”
In the letter, the group touted its support for the FCC pledge.