The Federal Communications Commission today announced a new initiative designed to help mitigate one possible effect of the coronavirus: namely, the ability of citizens to use their internet to work from home during the outbreak. The “Keep Americans Connected” pledge would help mitigate the effects of the massive “stay at home” social movement by helping ensure users won’t lose access to one of their most necessary functions — for now, anyway.
Any company that takes the pledge would essentially agree not to terminate service for any residential or small business users, waive any late fees incurred as a result of the pandemic, and open its hotspots to anyone who needs them — and all of this for the next 60 days. Several telecom companies have already taken the pledge, including AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Sprint, Charter, and T-Mobile.
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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in the official announcement that the ability to keep using internet from home could be essential in curbing the spread of the disease, and thanked companies for doing their part:
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… I don’t want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity.
This pledge follows a letter sent from a group of 17 Senators to the heads of major telecom companies, essentially asking all of them to remove data caps and throttling for communities affected by the virus, and to offer free internet solutions to students who’re being asked to do their schoolwork from home. The Senators pointed out that disrupting the education of these children — whose families cannot afford broadband internet — will only widen the socio-economic gap in rural communities.
A number of telecom companies have apparently decided on their own to not be colossally greedy monsters at a time like this. For example, AT&T is suspending its broadband data caps for home internet users, while Comcast is increasing the speed of its Internet Essentials plan so low-income users can enjoy access to faster internet.
As more and more businesses are encouraging their employees to work from home, more employees are going to be leaning on their home internet in order to remain employed. It’s going to be a tricky time for everyone, and the last thing you want to be worrying about is whether your internet is going to be shut off or slow to a crawl. My question is, what’s going to happen 60 days from now? Sure, everyone’s in a rush to help things now, but I highly doubt a situation like this will completely resolve itself in two months.
The real test will come a few months from now, when the initial rush of generosity and good publicity tapers off, and there are likely still to be millions of Americans who need faster internet. We’ll see what happens then.