Mar 13, 2020 - Technology

ISPs promise FCC they won't shut off service during pandemic

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaks into a microphone at a congressional hearing
FCC chairman Ajit Pai. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images.

The Federal Communications Commission obtained promises from several of the nation's broadband providers that they will not cut off internet service to Americans who can't pay their bills during the coronavirus crisis, agency chairman Ajit Pai said Friday.

The big picture: Americans will rely on home internet access to continue to work, study and in some cases, obtain telehealth services as the coronavirus pushes more people to quarantine themselves.

Details: Companies that adhere to Pai's "Keep Americans Connected Pledge" commit for the next 60 days to:

  • Not terminate service to any residential or small business customer because of an inability to pay bills due to coronavirus disruptions.
  • Waive late fees that customers incur because of changes in their economic circumstances related to the pandemic.
  • Open Wi-Fi hotspots to those in need.

"I don’t want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity," Chairman Pai said in a statement.

Nearly 70 companies already have taken the pledge, according an FCC spokesperson, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Comcast and Charter.

Background: The pledge follows phone calls Pai made with providers and their trade groups Thursday to discuss the coronavirus.

  • Pai has called on providers to relax data limits and urged companies with low-income broadband programs to expand and improve them, though those policies weren't part of the pledge.
  • Pai has also talked with providers about ensuring their network performance doesn't suffer as a result of heavier daytime usage of home broadband connections, the FCC said.

Context: Lawmakers have urged internet service providers to step up this week to help Americans through the coronavirus.

  • Rep. Jerry McNerney and 11 other House Energy and Commerce Democrats in a letter Thursday asked providers for details on how they're ensuring students, low-income people and others can access the internet during the crisis.
  • Sen. Mark Warner led other members of the Senate Democratic Caucus in asking major ISPs to suspend data caps during the crisis and do more to help students get broadband at home.

What's happening: AT&T, Comcast and Charter already have announced changes to their services in response to coronavirus.

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