How the various broadband SPs are stepping up to face the COVID-19 pandemic

March 18, 2020
The FCC has asked U.S. service providers, via the 'Keep Americans Connected Pledge', to relax data caps, open their Wi-Fi hotspots, waive late fees, and not terminate service to customers for inability to pay their bills for the next 60 days.

By RON HENDRICKSON, Broadband Technology Report (BTR) -- As fears of the coronavirus ramp up and drive people into their homes, Internet usage and network loads are expected to spike as more and more people work, learn, worship and entertain themselves online from home.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has asked U.S. service providers, via the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, to relax data caps, open their Wi-Fi hotspots, waive late fees, and not terminate service to customers for inability to pay their bills for the next 60 days. Numerous service providers have taken the pledge.

"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," said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. "That's why I'm asking all broadband and telephone service providers to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. I don't want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity."

Comcast

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) is opening its Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots for free, removing its data caps, waiving disconnects and late fees, offering Internet Essentials for free to new customers, and creating new educational collections for school-age students of all grade levels in partnership with Common Sense Media. Last week, Comcast increased the speeds and availability of Internet Essentials.

Charter

Charter Communications (NASDAQ:CHTR) will offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription and at any service level up to 100 Mbps. Installation fees will be waived for new student households. The company will partner with school districts to ensure local communities are aware of tools to help students learn remotely. Charter will continue to offer Spectrum Internet Assist, a high-speed broadband program to eligible low-income households delivering speeds of 30 Mbps.

Charter will open also its Wi-Fi hotspots across its footprint for public use. Spectrum does not have data caps.

Cox

Cox Communications is upgrading Internet speeds for select residential packages and implementing a variety of other changes for the next 60 days.

Residential customers in the company's Starter, StraightUp Internet and Connect2Compete packages will be automatically upgraded to speeds of 50 Mbps. For those tiers, Cox is also extending its Cox Complete Care remote desktop support at no charge. An upgrade for Essential customers from 30 Mbps to 50 Mbps, originally planned for later in the year, will be deployed.

In addition to following the Keep Americans Connected features of no disconnects or late fees and opening Wi-Fi spots, Cox is fast-tracking the qualification process for its Connect2Compete low-income broadband adoption program.

Altice

Altice USA (NYSE:ATUS) has committed to helping schools and students stay connected. For households with K-12 and/or college students who may be displaced due to school closures and who do not currently have home internet access, the company is offering its Altice Advantage 30 Mbps broadband solution for free for 60 days to any new customer household within its footprint. The company is also following the Keep Americans Connected pledge.

Atlantic Broadband

In addition to following the Keep Americans Connected initiative, Atlantic Broadband plans to prioritize network maintenance activities and service-related appointments for homes and businesses to ensure customer connectivity.

The company also has informed its customers of care options that can be accessed from home, including online and digital self-service options to troubleshoot services, activate modems and set-top boxes, modify services and more. The company also has informed its customers of online billing options so that customers do not need to travel to an office location to manage their account.

Smaller ops

Smaller operators Sparklight, Fidelity Communications and NewWave Communications are implementing their own measures.

Sparklight (formerly Cable ONE) will be making unlimited data available on all Internet services for the next 30 days and waiving late fees for its customers for the next 60 days. Additionally, Sparklight is offering payment deferrals to customers who call to make arrangements. The company plans to reassess after 30 days.

Fidelity will be waiving late fees and offering payment deferrals for its customers for the next 60 days. The company plans to reassess after 30 days.

NewWave will be making unlimited data available on all Internet services for the next 30 days and waiving late fees for its customers for the next 60 days. Additionally, NewWave is offering payment deferrals to customers who call to make arrangements. The company plans to reassess after 30 days.

T-Mobile

The FCC has granted Special Temporary Authority to T-Mobile to use additional spectrum in the 600 MHz band for 60 days to augment its ability to provide broadband service. The spectrum that T-Mobile will use was held either in FCC inventory or by other licensees that have consented to T-Mobile's temporary use of the spectrum. DISH is providing its entire portfolio of 600 MHz spectrum to T-Mobile at no cost for 60 days.

Canada

In Canada, Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.A) and Videotron are taking similar measures to those of U.S. operators.

Rogers is offering free access to a rotating selection of additional TV channels until April 30, as well as waiving long distance voice calling fees and pay-per-use roaming fees until April 30. Rogers has removed data usage caps for customers on limited home Internet plans until May 31, as well as waiving disconnects. For small businesses, the company is collaborating with Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) to offer Microsoft Teams and Office 365 free for six months.

Videotron is suspending data limits on all residential and business Internet plans for its existing customers in Quebec until March 31. The change will apply automatically.

RON HENDRICKSON is Managing Editor of Cabling Installation & Maintenance's sister publication, Broadband Technology Report 

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