As schools suspend classes, businesses close and companies ask their employees to work from home during the spread of the novel coronavirus, the pressure on communications networks will rise. Comcast and AT&T are the first internet providers to respond by extending data caps.
Their decisions come as Free Press called on internet service providers to "respond to the national-health emergency by waiving key broadband costs for those hit hard by COVID-19."
The coronavirus causes an illness called COVID-19, which exhibits pneumonia-like symptoms. The virus was first reported to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31 after originating in Wuhan, China. COVID-19 has spread globally, to Africa, the Americas, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, the UK and other parts of Asia. Chinese scientists have linked the disease to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses, which include SARS and MERS.
Coronavirus deaths now top 4,700, with over 128,000 cases confirmed worldwide. The World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic on March 11. As of March 12, US cases of coronavirus were sitting at around 1,300.
Comcast has increased the speeds of its Internet Essentials plan aimed at low-income earners as of March 16, Dana Strong, president of Comcast Cable consumer services, said in a blog post Thursday. This involves offering 60 days of free service, after which people will be charged $9.95 per month, and increasing speeds on this plan from 15/2Mbps to 25/3Mbps.
"As our country continues to manage the COVID-19 emergency, we recognize that our company plays an important role in helping our customers stay connected – to their families, their workplaces, their schools, and the latest information about the virus – through the internet," Strong wrote.
AT&T is waiving fees for going over data caps, adding that many of its internet customers already have unlimited data.
"Additionally, through Access from AT&T we'll continue to offer internet data to qualifying limited income households for $10 a month," an AT&T spokesperson added in an emailed statement Thursday, March 12.
On Friday, AT&T added all home internet users have access to unlimited data; it will offer Cisco Webex Meetings video conferencing for free for the next 90 days for businesses, universities and schools; customers will be credited for the costs of calling CDC Level-3 countries; its World Connect Advantage plan will be 50% off; and it is supporting the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), which is developing "communication tools for parents, teachers and school boards to help them handle school closures and the increase in virtual learning."
Verizon said Thursday it's "constantly monitoring data usage and the needs of our customers" in an emailed statement. The carrier said it's more focused on ensuring first responders in public safety, healthcare and government agencies have access to networks, which could become more congested from heavier usage than normal. Verizon also pointed out its home broadband plans, including 5G Home and Fios, already come with unlimited data.
On Friday, Verizon said it will waive late fees for the next 60 days, and keep homes and small businesses connected while they're "negatively impacted by global crisis."
"We want to ensure that our customers can continue to use the internet to work, learn, and carry on with their lives as we all address this collective challenge," Hans Vestberg, Verizon CEO, said as part of athat involves not terminating residential or small business services due to their inability to pay bills during the coronavirus pandemic; waiving late fees; and opening their Wi-Fi hotspots to all Americans for the next 60 days.
T-Mobile announced Friday that it would be T-Mobile and Metro customers. It will also be providing an additional 20GB of its mobile hotspot service for the next 60 days, and is offering free international calls to any Level 3-impacted nations worldwide.for the next 60 days. This includes
"Now, more than ever, as school and workplace closures are happening each day, reliable internet connectivity is crucial," T-Mobile said in a blog post Friday afternoon. The carrier is increasing its data allowance for free to schools and students who use its EmpowerED digital learning programs, providing 20GB of data per month for the next 60 days.
starting next week. The arrangement will kick in by March 19, and Sprint will also provide customers with an extra 20GB of mobile hotspot data per month for the same time period.
The carrier is also waiving late fees from Friday, and won't terminate services if customers are unable to pay their bill due to the impacts of the coronavirus. By Tuesday, it'll introduce free international calling for CDC Level 3 nations for customers with long-distance calling plans.
Customers who don't pay for mobile hotspot services will get 20GB per month for the next 60 days "soon," Sprint added.