AT&T, Verizon Will Waive Wireless Overage Fees During Pandemic. But You'll Have To Ask.

from the unnecessary-restrictions dept

Earlier this month, the biggest U.S. broadband providers announced they'd be dropping usage caps and overage fees during the pandemic in order to provide a little financial relief to home-bound Americans trying to slow the virus' spread. That's good, since telecom CEOs, engineers, and leaked documents have all made it clear caps and overage fees on fixed-line networks are little more than the price gouging of captive customers in uncompetitive U.S. broadband markets, and do absolutely nothing to help manage congestion in the age of intelligent networks that can prioritize or deprioritize entire traffic types on the fly.

It's slightly different on wireless where there's limited spectrum, but there too, researchers have noted that caps and usage fees aren't helpful to manage congestion. Not only are they like using a bulldozer to try and fix a watch, they open the door to abuse by companies that have long been eager to abuse such restrictions for anti-competitive gain. AT&T's already doing this by charging you overage fees if you use Netflix, but not if you use AT&T's own streaming services. Facebook has similarly been criticized for trying to use mobile caps and "zero rating" to corner the ad market in developing nations.

While many mobile users are now on (not really) "unlimited" data plans, AT&T and Verizon say they'll be giving U.S. residents on limited plans some financial relief by waiving overage fees on limited data plans for at least the next 60 days. This being AT&T and Verizon this of course won't happen automatically, and you'll have to beg the giants manually for some financial leniency. From a Verizon announcement:

"When a Verizon customer is experiencing hardships because of COVID-19, Verizon will waive late fees and [data-cap] overage charges for 60 days from March 16 to May 13 for customers who let us know they are unable to pay as a result of economic hardship due to the pandemic, and we will not terminate service to those customers. If our customers are experiencing a hardship, they should call our customer service team to discuss their situation and available options."

Ars Technica asked Verizon whether users will need to show proof they can't pay in order to get relief, but the company didn't answer. AT&T's announcement of the waived overage fees and surcharges indicates users don't have to show proof of financial hardship to have the charges waived.

Keep in mind that U.S. consumers, thanks in large part due to regulatory capture, lobbying, and the monopolization of the fiber lines that feed cell towers, already pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for wireless data. It's a problem that's only going to get worse courtesy of the rubber stamped T-Mobile and Sprint merger, which reduced overall U.S. wireless sector competition by a cool 25%.

So while it's certainly a good thing carriers are doing this, these kinds of overage fees were never technically necessary in the first place, and are little more than profit gravy in the first place.

Filed Under: covid-19, overage fees, pandemic
Companies: at&t, verizon


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