Cellular carriers have earned many negative impressions over the years for poor billing practices, unfair contracts, and some dubious attempts to insert themselves where they might not belong; but there’s no denying that they have a good track record for giving a little back in times of crisis. In light of the spread of COVID-19, which has now been upgraded to a global pandemic, carriers in the US are committing to give more data to subscribers and relax their billing practices so people can focus on more important things.
Earlier today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a letter encouraging providers of broadband and telephone services to join the Pledge. The terms ask that companies commit to keeping service active for residential and small business users, waive fees for late payments, and open up Wi-Fi access to anybody that might need it. At the time of publication, 90 companies had committed to the pledge. The letter goes on to say that it’s important to keep people connected during a time when people will naturally distance themselves from each other.
The Keep Americans Connected Pledge reads as follows:
Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] pledges for the next 60 days to:
- 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;
- Waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and
- Open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.
Announcements from AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint follow the terms pretty directly by waiving late fees and maintaining accounts for residential and small business customers for the next 60 days. US Cellular also appears on the list of pledges published by the FCC, but no official announcements have been made and its COVID-19 page doesn’t currently mention making any changes.
T-Mobile has gone above and beyond the call with several additional steps to help out its customers for the next 60 days. Anybody with a limited data plan on T-Mobile or Metro will automatically get unlimited smartphone data (excluding roaming), and mobile hotspot / tethering users will get an additional 20GB (Note: the hotspot portion is described as, “coming soon,” but doesn’t specify what that means). T-Mobile’s low-income program, Lifeline, will give an additional 5GB per month. And schools and students with service through the EmpowerED program will be guaranteed at least 20GB of data per month. T-Mobile and Metro customers will also have free international calling to Level 3 impacted countries, which includes much of Europe.
Carriers are also encouraging the use of their online portals and apps to carry out shopping and customer service needs wherever possible, and taking precautions with your phone and any personal interactions at stores.