US ISPs Drop Usage Caps, Pledge To Avoid Kicking Users Offline During Coronavirus

from the every-bit-helps dept

While it required some nudging, several of the nation's biggest ISPs this week announced they would be suspending their usage caps and overage fees as millions of Americans prepare to hunker down to slow the spread of COVID-19. Comcast, AT&T, and Centurylink all stopped imposing such limits for at least the next 90 days. Critics (and even leaked Comcast memos) have long made it clear such restrictions (particularly on fixed line networks) aren't technically useful in managing congestion as the industry once claimed, and are little more than glorified price hikes on captive customers.

The speed at which such restrictions were dispatched (during a time when overall bandwidth consumption is up, no less) supports industry executive claims that such limits are arbitrary, confusing, and unnecessary.

That said, numerous ISPs say they're taking additional steps to ensure users can stay online during the outbreak. For example, a coalition of several dozen ISPs struck a voluntary "Keep Americans Connected Pledge" that they wouldn't kick users offline during the outbreak for lack of payment due to Coronavirus, and wouldn't impose late fees either. From the FCC announcement:

"Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] pledges for the next 60 days to:

(1) 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 its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

To be clear, this is a good thing. Those struggling during the obvious economic difficulties to come should not be kicked offline during a pandemic. That said, this is all voluntary and there's no genuine legal mandate for ISPs to do follow up. Given this FCC's tendency toward giving industry a pass for pretty much anything, it's unlikely it would penalize any ISP for non-compliance barring the most obvious instances of attention-grabbing misbehavior. At lobbyist behest, the FCC has stripped away much of its industry oversight as it applies to everything from sneaky fees to transparent billing, making this sort of thing notably more difficult to actually police.

Again, that's not to say that much of these efforts won't be a good thing in the weeks or months to come. Comcast and Spectrum in particular lay claim to tens of thousands of hot spots across the United States, and opening them up to the general public should prove greatly beneficial. Especially if the nation's libraries -- often the first place lower income Americans go to connect to the internet -- are forced to close their doors. Other ISPs, like T-Mobile, have announced they're effectively getting rid of caps and will be giving all of the company's customers unlimited data:

Starting now - ALL current T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers who have plans with data will have unlimited smartphone data for the next 60 days (excluding roaming).

Providing T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers an additional 20GB of mobile hotspot / tethering service for the next 60 days – coming soon.

In the weeks and months to come, Americans will face notable financial hardships as the country struggles with business closures as the country attempts to "flatten the curve." At the very least, they won't have to worry about usage restrictions and consumption fees that shouldn't have existed in the first place.

Filed Under: broadband, broadband caps, coronavirus, covid-19, usage caps
Companies: at&t, centurylink, comcast, t-mobile, verizon


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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 17 Mar 2020 @ 4:46am

    'Now I shall generously give you what I took from you before.'

    While it's certainly a good move that will help a good many people it's a little hard to break out the applause given they were the ones who created the problem they are now 'generously' providing a temporary exemption to.

    Working to put out the fire in a burning house is admirable.

    If however you were the one who set the house on fire to begin with, not so much.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wyrm (profile), 17 Mar 2020 @ 11:09am

      Re: 'Now I shall generously give you what I took from you before

      This reflects directly Biden's answer to health care: "now that it's a crisis, we should give people free cure." For those so-called "leaders", the problem is not so much the health crisis, but the media crisis that derives from it.

      Health care, Internet usage caps and more, from generic issues to specific ones, there are tons of things that suddenly get in the spotlight in times of crisis, that shouldn't have needed crisis management to begin with.

      Those are problems that happen all the time. They just affect more people in tough times, so the media suddenly get interested enough. Sadly, I bet the media will just as quickly forget about it as soon as the pandemic situation is resolved. It's up to the people to remember and continue bringing it up after the crisis is out of the front-page.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 17 Mar 2020 @ 5:09am

    You know what they say…

    "In a medical crisis, everyone's a socialist."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 17 Mar 2020 @ 6:51am

    User priorities in 91 days (or whatever)

    The thing is, if low paid workers have a hard time paying their broadband/cable bills over the next 90 days due to their lack of/under employment in their service industry job, what is going to be more important to them in 91 days (or whatever)? Rent, food, clothing, medical supplies or broadband/cable bill?

    We will see when these magnanimous giants do or don't report them to collection agencies, after they are in fact kicked off on day 92 (or whatever) for their lack of payment. While I can see where Internet connectivity is important, especially when we are asking everyone to be physically isolated from everyone else (with good reason) it isn't more important than food, clothing, and shelter.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 6:52am

    The internet seems a bit slow lately, I imagine there is a lot of streaming going on.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 7:37am

    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;

    This is a vague promise. How will the ISPs determine whether their inability to pay was due to that? Will they require documentation? What's the definition of a "small" business?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Mar 2020 @ 9:34am

    From the “This site still fucking sucks” dept

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 17 Mar 2020 @ 10:27am

    Is this "promise" enough that in 2025 we'll have a coin flip chance whether the FTC will slap the wrists of any ISP that reneges?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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