Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai introduced a new broadband and telecom industry measure on Friday 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, Pai says that virtually every major company in the US broadband and telecom businesses has committed to the pledge, including AT&T, Charter, CenturyLink, Comcast, Cox, Sonic, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon, among others.
The pledge arrives just a day after AT&T said it would suspend broadband data caps from home internet customers and Comcast said it would be raising internet speeds on its Internet Essentials tier, its broadband planned designed for low-income families. Verizon on Friday said it would be waiving late fees for customers and small businesses, too.
Part of the Keep Americans Connected Pledge is also urging other companies to follow AT&T in suspending data caps as well as asking companies not to charge long-distance and overage fees and to prioritize connectivity to health care providers and hospitals. All of these policies should help alleviate issues stemming from the spike in work-from-home policies being instituted throughout the country to promote social distancing and help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.
“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,” Pai said in a statement.
In addition to agreeing to the pledge, Verizon said on March 14th it would be implementing “social distancing” by temporarily reducing the number of its retail stores that remain open.
“I applaud those companies that have already taken the Keep Americans Connected Pledge,” he added. “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.” Pai is asking for other companies to continue stepping forward to sign the pledge.
Update March 13th, 1:50PM ET: Added that Verizon will be waiving late fees for customers and small businesses due to coronavirus.
Update March 14th, 4:20PM ET: Added that Verizon will reduce the number of stores that remain open during the coronavirus outbreak.