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As more people across the country work from home to help stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, some internet service providers (ISPs) are pledging to raise broadband speeds, suspend data caps, and generally make life easier for all.
More than 60 companies have signed on to the Federal Communication Commission's Keep America Connected Pledge, promising changes that will protect Americans on a budget from service interruptions during the crisis.
"Consumer Reports is encouraged by these timely actions," says Jonathan Schwantes, a senior policy counsel in CR's Washington, D.C., office. "Not only are these moves pro-consumer, they're a no-brainer, and we call on all internet service providers and wireless carriers to suspend data caps, boost internet speeds, and provide free or discounted service for those consumers most in need."
According to the provisions of the Keep America Connected Pledge, companies have agreed not to terminate service for residential customers and small-business owners who can't pay their bills due to disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic. They will also waive late fees caused by the crisis and open their WiFi hot spots to anyone who needs them.
"This is a great first step and a necessary one," Schwantes says.
Jessica Rosenworcel, an FCC commissioner, has called on companies to offer even more assistance. "We need to expand these pledges and make adjustments to FCC programs so that even more Americans can get online during this crisis at little or no cost," Rosenworcel says. "Where data caps and overage fees are in place, they need to be lifted and eliminated."
AT&T and Comcast say they will suspend data caps for internet service to eliminate fees for consumers. T-Mobile is removing data caps for cellular customers, too (details below).
Comcast has announced that it will also boost internet service speeds in its lowest-tier plans and offer new residential customers free internet for 60 days. Altice, Charter Spectrum, and Cox Internet announced programs providing free internet to qualified low-income users for a limited time.
Want to know what the ISPs in your area are doing to help consumers during the COVID-19 crisis? Consumer Reports reached out to ask about their plans.
Aside from Sparklight, all the companies listed below have signed on to the FCC's Keep America Connected program. As more information rolls in, we'll continue to update this article.
What's Your Internet Service Provider Doing?
The company is offering 50 Mbps broadband service for free for 60 days to households without internet service, reducing fees for 60 days for existing and new broadband customers in need, and waiving service-modification fees for businesses and residences.
The company is offering its Altice Advantage 30 Mbps broadband service free for 60 days to any new residential customer currently without internet access. According to the FCC, 25Mbps and above classifies as high-speed.
The company is doubling internet speeds for all customers at no additional charge, offering broadband service for free for four months to new customers with telehealth, education, and work-from-home needs.
The company is offering free wireless data to K-12 students to access educational sites while they are home, and raising data limits and speeds for customers on many prepaid plans.
The ISP will offer free Spectrum broadband and WiFi access for 60 days to households with students in kindergarten through 12th grade or college students who don't already have a Spectrum broadband subscription at any service level up to 100 Mbps. The installation fees will be waived for new student households. To enroll, call 844-488-8395.
For eligible low-income households without school-age children, Charter offers Spectrum Internet Assist, a low-cost broadband program delivering speeds of 30 Mbps. Spectrum doesn't have data caps or hidden fees.
Comcast will offer new residential customers who qualify its $9.95-per-month Internet Essentials program free for 60 days. The company says it will boost its internet service speeds from 15/2 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps, which qualifies the service as high-speed broadband under FCC guidelines. Comcast will also suspend data caps for 60 days and refrain from disconnecting service or charging late fees for customers who contact the company regarding overdue payments.
Starting Monday, new customers can receive a free month of internet service in the company's Connect2Compete plan, available to qualified low-income households for $9.95 a month. The company is also fast-tracking the application process to get families connected more quickly.
Cox will make its Complete Care support program free to all residential customers who have technical issues or need assistance installing features like education software or teleconferencing. The company is going to increase internet speeds from 25/3 Mbps to 50/3 Mbps for 60 days for the Starter, StraightUp Internet, and Connect2Compete packages, and speed up the implementation of a 50Mbps upgrade for users of Cox's Essentials service. That upgrade had been scheduled for later in the year.
Cox also has announced a $19.99 offer for new Starter internet customers with a temporary boost in download speeds to 50 Mbps. The company is also eliminating data usage overages to meet higher bandwidth demands. Customers with a 500 GB or Unlimited data usage add-on plan will receive credits on future bills.
The provider is increasing broadband speeds for customers who are working remotely.
Hotwire is offering free 100 Mbps broadband for two months to new customers that are students or live in low-income households.
The company is increasing broadband speeds for its Connect2Compete (low-income) customers from 10 Mbps to 25 Mbps. It's also offering broadband service for free for 60 days to new Connect2Compete customers as well as reducing prices for 60 Mbps broadband service for new customers, and suspending data usage limits through May 15.
Nelson is increasing broadband speeds for customers that need it for distance learning, telecommuting, or telemedicine, and offering 50 Mbps broadband service for free through June 30 to new customers in need.
The company is increasing broadband speeds up to 1 Gbps through April 10.
Socket is increasing broadband speeds to 1 Gbps for 60 days for residential customers.
The company says it's making unlimited data available on all internet services and waiving late fees for the next 30 days. Customers can call to arrange payment deferrals, Sparklight adds.
The company is offering free 30 Mbps broadband service through the end of May for both new and existing customers who live in affordable housing.
The company has no data cap for its home internet service. All current T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile wireless customers who have cell-phone plans with data will be granted unlimited smartphone data for the next 60 days (excluding roaming). They'll also receive an additional 20GB of mobile hot spot/tethering service for those two months. The company is working to provide Lifeline low-income customers with up to 5GB of free data per month over the next two months.
The company recently increased speeds at no extra cost on some mid-tier FIOS services, bumping the 100 Mbps tier to 200 Mbps and the 200 Mbps tier to 300 Mbps. The company reports that it places no data caps on its home internet broadband services. Verizon also offers a low-cost Lifeline plan for qualified families.
Washington Broadband is increasing broadband speeds for student customers and offering broadband service for free to students who cannot afford it and small business owners who have had to close their businesses.
Correction: An earlier version of this article referred to Jessica Rosenworcel as the FCC commissioner. She is one of four commissioners who serve alongside the FCC chairman. This story has been updated to include additional discounts and speed increases collected by the FCC. The article was originally published on March 14, 2020.
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