FCC’s ‘Keep Americans Connected Pledge’ is over. Now what?
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TheThe crisis in the United States continues, but many broadband and mobile customers who have difficulty paying their bills may no longer benefit from a promise made by the Federal Communications Commission to keep them connected and late Waive fees.
As part of the FCC’s Keep American Connected Pledge, commitments from more than 750 broadband and cellular companies not to stop service and waive late fees, officially ended on Tuesday.
While many of the country’s largest service providers say they will work individually with customers who cannot pay their bills due to a job loss during the COVID 19 crisis, they will no longer keep the promise.
This happens at a time when COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, continues to occur. According to Johns Hopkins University, which has been monitoring the spread of the virus, several U.S. states have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases, with the country registering more than 40,000 new daily cases in the past few days. Some states, including Texas and Florida, have stopped or reversed plans to reopen as the number of new cases increases.
meanwhileas a result of the closure of companies due to the pandemic. In early June, it was reported that nearly 43 million people in the US applied for unemployment in April and May. That’s about one in four American workers. A survey by the Economic Policy Institute in April estimated that this number is lower than the actual number of unemployed Americans: millions more people could have submitted if the unemployment processes had been simpler.
The FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, recognized early in the pandemic that the economic burden of historic job loss has affected millions of Americans at a critical time when schools have closed and students have been forced to learn online and employers have forced workers to do so prompted to leave without an internet connection from a distance.
In March, Pai called on US mobile operators and Internet service providers to commit to waiving late-date charges and connection drops in the corona virus pandemic for 60 days. In April, he asked everyone who had committed to the promise.
These airlines not only promised not to interrupt the service for residential and small business customers who could not pay their bills, but also promised to waive late fees due to the coronavirus pandemic and to open their WiFi hotspots for free to everyone you can use them.
More than 750 service providers have signed up to the voluntary promise. It is important to note that none of the companies were forced to keep part of the promise. And there were complaints from some consumers that the carriers did not keep the promise. Pai was asked about this at a conference call in May with the House Energy & Commerce Committee. At that point, he admitted that the agency had received around 500 complaints about the program.
“I understand that most of the complaints we’ve received about the promise have been resolved to ensure that consumers stay connected during the pandemic,” said Pai.
The FCC declined CNET’s request for further comments on the complaints.
In a letter to Congress on June 19, Pai expressed concern that consumers still can’t pay their bills after Keep Americans Connected’s promise has ended. He said he asked companies not to separate consumers and small businesses left on their bills in July due to the coronavirus pandemic. And he added that he encouraged these companies to give customers the opportunity to extend payment plans and postpone payment arrangements. He also urged providers to maintain and expand their plans for low-income families and to maintain distance learning initiatives for students.
Several network operators and broadband providers have met its requirements.
Comcast said it will extend its 60-day free internet for low-income households through the Internet Essentials program by the end of the year. In addition, the public Xfinity WiFi hotspots will be open until the end of the year. The company has extended its $ 150 student Visa card payment offer to September 30. The company also announced that customers who could not pay their bills would not be cut off on July 1st. Work with customers individually “to find the best payment options for them and keep them connected,” a spokesman said in an email.
Charter outlined how it will help customers in a policy blog. It is planned to offer repayment assistance to “work with our customers to find a plan that fits their needs and budget, including our affordable, low-income, broadband Internet Assist, Qualified Household” service. The company said it would also allocate part of the late arrears to customers who “requested collection activities to be suspended due to COVID-related financial implications.” It is also planned to continue the Spectrum Internet Assist program for low-income families and the elderly. It will also offer new small business customers one month of free service.
“Corporations will continue to offer enhanced low-income support programs and new partnerships with schools and other groups affected by the COVID 19 crisis,” said Brian Dietz, a spokesman for NCTA, the cable industry’s lobby group. “While the government’s promise may go down, our relationship and commitment to our customers will not.”
Verizon Customers who have already signed up for the promise will automatically be included in the company’s Stay Connected repayment program to receive connection options.
“We will continue to work with clients to provide and advance the best financial options available,” said a company spokesman.
AT & T. said it would waive data overflow charges for the home Internet service until September 30.
However, this waiver does not apply to data restrictions for DSL and fixed wireless services.