CWA, Consumer Groups Urge Broadband CEOs to Lift Data Caps, Waive Fees

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The Communications Workers of America and consumer advocacy groups sent a letter today to major broadband CEOs urging them to lift data caps, waive data cap fees, and take other steps to help the American public stop the spread of the novel coronavirus and facilitate access to essential communications services for all.

 “The telecommunications industry must do more to protect consumers and facilitate connectivity during the novel coronavirus pandemic,” the organizations wrote. “Connectivity is essential during times of crisis, and during an infectious disease crisis in particular,” the organizations wrote. “In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, public health officials have recommended ‘social distancing,’…This guidance will require a significant shift to tele-work, tele-medicine, and tele-education. This shift necessitates far more bandwidth than under normal circumstances.”  

The groups make the following recommendations for Altice, AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, Frontier Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon:  

  1. Lift all data caps and waive all data cap fees for all customers — wired and wireless — including the current practice of throttling the capacity of “unlimited” plans after customers exceed certain data use thresholds;
  2. Remove barriers to immediate access to service plans, including any waiting period to enroll (e.g., 90-day period without a broadband subscription) and the disqualification of those with past or current arrearages with the company; and
  3. Share with the FCC data collected on the number of customers served, by what packages, and where expanded services were provided during the emergency, especially data on the impacts of raised data limits on service quality and network management or any challenges raised by waiving waiting periods. This information can help the FCC manage connectivity challenges associated with the pandemic, including identification of critical-need communities and network weaknesses, and help the government prepare for future crises. The FCC should also make this information available to the public, with appropriate safeguards for privacy and data use, to help communities address the pandemic with the best available data. 

Inside Towers reported that AT&T is waiving home internet data overage fees for customers who don’t already have unlimited home internet access. Comcast is increasing the speeds in its program for low-income subscribers, Internet Essentials, to 25/3 Mbps (up from 15/2 Mbps). The company is also offering the program for free for new customers for 60 days.

“If this experience with the COVID-19 pandemic shows us anything, it is that when there is political will inside and outside the FCC, it can take action to work to make sure all Americans have access to affordable high speed broadband,” said Chris Lewis, President/CEO of Public Knowledge. “My hope is that we learn from this period so that we can muster the will that has been absent in recent years to take action in non-emergency periods to ensure all have access. This letter points the way forward towards that goal.”

Groups signing the letter include Common Cause, Consumer Reports, Fight for the Future, Free Press, Institute for Local Self-Reliance, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, Media Justice, National Consumer Law Center, National Hispanic Media Coalition, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Public Knowledge, The Utility Reform Network, and United Church of Christ, OC Inc.

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