Broadband and wireless companies are signing a “Keep Americans Connected Pledge” at the request of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, to ensure customers in the US aren’t cut off from communications services during the coronavirus pandemic.
Pai said in a release Friday that he talked with broadband service providers and trade associations on Thursday and asked them to agree to three major terms to “ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity as a result of these exceptional circumstances.” Providers are being asked to abide by the pledge for at least the next 60 days. The terms are as follows.
(1) Companies will “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 … Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.”
“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 the 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.”
Pai also said that the FCC will continue to talk to broadband companies about possible strains on their networks due to increased usage, as many people telecommute for work and school children try to access instruction remotely.
The pledge comes as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the US explodes, resulting in schools closing and companies across the country asking employees to work remotely. As a result, Americans nationwide will be relying on their broadband connections to stay connected to schools, workplaces and medical professionals.
Shortly after the announcement, Verizon announced it would follow the pledge and waive late fees. AT&T followed suit.
Earlier this week, Democrats on the FCC expressed their concern that the FCC needed to do something to ensure that Americans stay connected to broadband and to help get those who may not have access to high speed internet get connected.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said the broadband and wireless carriers’ pledge was a “welcome first step.”
“We know that more Americans than ever before will need internet access for work, education and health care,” she said. “We also know that this crisis will expose hard truths about the scope of the digital divide.”
But the FCC needs to do more, she said. Specifically, she’s asking the agency to take these additional steps:
- Use universal service power to provide hotspots for loan to students whose schools have closed.
- Connect hospitals and patients just like the FCC did in the wake of Hurricane Katrina by working with health care providers to “ensure connectivity for telehealth services are available for hospitals, doctors, and nurses treating coronavirus patients and those who are quarantined.”
- Expand the pledges broadband and wireless companies are making and adjust FCC programs so that even more Americans can get online during this crisis at little or no cost.
- Eliminate data caps and overage fees where they apply.
On Thursday Comcast and AT&T were the first internet providers to announce that they would be extending data caps for their services.
The FCC listed the following companies and industry associations that have taken the 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
- CenturyLink, Charter
- 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
- Hiawatha Broadband
- Hill Country
- IdeaTek Telcom
- Lafourche Telephone Company
- Lakeland Communications
- Long Lines Broadband
- Mammoth Networks/Visionary Broadband
- 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
- ACA Connects
- Competitive Carriers of America
- NCTA — The Internet and Television Association
- The Rural Broadband Association
Responses to pledge
“Now more than ever, we need to ensure that our customers, their families and businesses have the ability to connect to the internet even if they’re facing financial hardship from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic,” said Hans Vestberg, Verizon chairman and CEO. “We want to ensure that our customers can continue to use the internet to work, learn, and carry on with their lives as we all address this collective challenge. We’re confident this joint effort will help make that happen.”
“We are confronting an unparalleled global public health crisis,” said NCTA President Michael Powell. “This is a moment that calls for society to work together and for every business and organization to do what it can to help mitigate the dangerous effects of COVID-19 and the risk it presents to our citizens. Social distancing has become an essential part of that response, which is leading to millions of people — by far more than typical — working and learning from home. NCTA’s member companies, America’s broadband leaders which provide fast and reliable internet service to over 72 million homes and businesses, are working hard to ensure that our vital network connection to the internet remains robust and accessible.”
“Rising to the challenge and meeting the moment; that is the message our small, competitive local broadband and communications service providers are sending today by joining the FCC pledge to “Keep Americans Connected” during the Coronovirus challenge,” said INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering. “Without question, broadband is a critical, lifesaving service for our customers. Local providers serve schools, hospitals, health clinics, small businesses and families that depend on fast reliable internet access and communications services now more than ever.”
“ACA Connects applauds FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for his vision and guidance at a time when the country is facing a global health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic,” said ACA President Matt Polka. “The challenges facing our country require a new level of teamwork between broadband service providers and government. We at ACA Connects endorse Chairman Pai’s ‘Keep Americans Connected’ pledge, and we know that all ACA Connects members are committed to helping their communities stay strong amid so much uncertainty.”
“CCA members care about the health and safety of their customers,” said Steven K. Berry, president of the Competitive Carriers Association. “I thank Chairman Pai and the Commissioners for their commitment to ensuring consumers and small businesses maintain connectivity, through efforts like the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, as the nation weathers the coronavirus pandemic. The ability to connect with public safety, educational resources and family is absolutely critical during this time, and I thank the Commission for keeping the public interest top of mind. We will continue to work with the FCC, Administration, and Congress on this and other measures to address the pandemic crisis.”
“The wireless industry applauds Chairman Pai and the Administration for taking important proactive steps to keep Americans connected,” said CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker. “We’re committed to serving our customers and continuing to provide access to the world’s most reliable wireless networks.”