Communications companies big and small have signed on to a "Keep Americans Connected Pledge" at the request of FCC chairman Ajit Pai and in the face of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Pai talked with broadband service providers and trade associations Thursday (March 12) and asked them, "in order to ensure that Americans do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity as a result of these exceptional circumstances, to agree to the following for at least the next 60 days:
(1) "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;
(2) "waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and
(3) "open its WiFi hotspots to any American who needs them."
“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," said Pai. "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 applaud the broadband companies that have decided to make changes to their business practices to support the response to COVID-19," said FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks. "This is a great start. Now, the FCC needs to join the effort and implement the steps that I outlined in my Senate testimony on Tuesday and highlighted throughout this week."
Democratic Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel also praised the signatories, but also wanted more.
He said the FCC continues to talk with service providers about being able to keep up with changes in usage patterns--as in lots more traffic--during the pandemic to make sure it does not impair network performance.
“We are confronting an unparalleled global public health crisis," said NCTA-The Internet & Television Association President Michael Powell. "This is a moment that calls for society to work together and for every business and organization to do what it can to help mitigate the dangerous effects of COVID-19 and the risk it presents to our citizens. Social distancing has become an essential part of that response, which is leading to millions of people – by far more than typical – working and learning from home. NCTA’s member companies, America’s broadband leaders which provide fast and reliable internet service to over 72 million homes and businesses, are working hard to ensure that our vital network connection to the internet remains robust and accessible."
“Rising to the challenge and meeting the moment; that is the message our small, competitive local broadband and communications service providers are sending today by joining the FCC pledge to “Keep Americans Connected” during the Coronovirus challenge," said INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering. "Without question, broadband is a critical, lifesaving service for our customers. Local providers serve schools, hospitals, health clinics, small businesses and families that depend on fast reliable internet access and communications services now more than ever.”
“ACA Connects applauds FCC Chairman Ajit Pai for his vision and guidance at a time when the country is facing a global health crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic," asid ACA President Matt Polka. "The challenges facing our country require a new level of teamwork between broadband service providers and government. We at ACA Connects endorse Chairman Pai’s ‘Keep Americans Connected’ pledge, and we know that all ACA Connects members are committed to helping their communities stay strong amid so much uncertainty."
“CCA members care about the health and safety of their customers," said Steven K. Berry, president of the Competitive Carriers Association. "I thank Chairman Pai and the Commissioners for their commitment to ensuring consumers and small businesses maintain connectivity, through efforts like the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, as the nation weathers the coronavirus pandemic. The ability to connect with public safety, educational resources and family is absolutely critical during this time, and I thank the Commission for keeping the public interest top of mind. We will continue to work with the FCC, Administration, and Congress on this and other measures to address the pandemic crisis.”
“The wireless industry applauds Chairman Pai and the Administration for taking important proactive steps to keep Americans connected," said CTIA President Meredith Attwell Baker. "We’re committed to serving our customers and continuing to provide access to the world’s most reliable wireless networks."
The Republican leadership on the House Energy & Commerce Committee were pleased with the pledge effort.
"As COVID-19 continues, Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Republican Leader Bob Latta (R-OH) praise the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s Keep Americans Connected pledge and the steps taken by individual private companies to make sure Americans have access to internet during this time.
“In times of need, we need all hands on deck to protect the public health and safety of communities across the nation," said House E&C ranking member Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Communications Subcommittee ranking member Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio). "As more people begin to work, learn, and receive health care at home during this coronavirus pandemic, we must also make sure that people can access vital broadband services.
“We applaud the FCC for launching their ‘Keep Americans Connected’ pledge to incentivize providers to waive late fees for low-income families and small businesses, and expand access to Wi-Fi hotspots. We also thank private companies who have taken individual efforts to improve broadband access for communities who need it most during this time.
“We hope to continue this momentum to expand broadband access as Congress takes emergency measures to combat COVID-19. This is a tremendous opportunity to work in a bipartisan way to improve connectivity issues. We will continue to work with our colleagues, the FCC, and the private sector to bridge the digital divide so all Americans can stay connected.”
ISPs have already taken some of those steps, but the FCC said the following companies have agreed to take the pledge.
ACIRA – Powered by Farmers Mutual Telephone Company & Federated Telephone, Allstream Business US, AlticeUSA, Antietam Broadband, Atlantic Broadband, AT&T, BBT, BOYCOM Vision, Burlington Telecom, Cable One, Central Arkansas Telephone Cooperative, CenturyLink, Charter, Cincinnati Bell, Citizens Connected, Comcast, Consolidated Communications, Cox Communications, Digital West, East Ascension Telephone Company, Education Networks of America, Emery Telecom, Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, FirstLight, Frontier, Google Fiber, Grande Communications, Granite Telecommunications, Great Plains Communications, GWI, Hiawatha Broadband, Hill Country, IdeaTek Telcom, Inteliquent, Lafourche Telephone Company, Lakeland Communications, Long Lines Broadband, Mammoth Networks/Visionary Broadband, Mediacom, MetTel, Nex-Tech, Ninestar Connect, Northwest Fiber, Orbitel Communications, Pioneer Communications, Premier Communications, Range Telephone Cooperative, RCN, Reserve Telephone Company, Sacred Wind Communications, Shawnee Communications, Socket Telecom, Sonic, Sprint, Starry, TDS Telecom, TelNet Worldwide, T-Mobile, TracFone Wireless, Uniti Fiber, US Cellular, Vast Broadband, Verizon, Vyve Broadband Investments, Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom, Wave Broadband, West Telecom Services, Windstream, and ZenFi Networks. And the trade associations ACA Connects, Competitive Carriers of America, CTIA, INCOMPAS, NCTA—The Internet and Television Association, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom, and WISPA have all endorsed the pledge.