Several telecommunications and Internet companies in Connecticut are expanding services amid the coronavirus outbreak to allow more access and at some cheaper costs at a time when telecommuting is up in the state.
(TNS) — Several telecommunications and internet companies in Connecticut are expanding services amid the coronavirus outbreak to allow more access and at some cheaper costs.
The announcements follow a nationwide pledge initiated by the Federal Communications Commission earlier this month, aimed to benefit people forced to work from home and students who are now distance learning with schools closed.
“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...I don’t want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said earlier this month.
For the next two months, companies that signed the pledge, including Frontier, Verizon and Cox Communications among others, will not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by COVID-19. They will waive late fees incurred by that any residential or small business customers due to economic circumstances related to the pandemic. They will also open their Wi-Fi hotspots to the public for free.
Pai asked telephone carriers to waive long-distance and overage fees, and for all network operators to prioritize the needs of hospitals and healthcare providers. He also requested broadband companies to relax data cap policies. A data-cap is a provider-imposed limit on the amount of data a customer can access. Typically, customers pay more on a monthly basis for an increased data limit, or for unlimited data. However, not all companies choose to use data caps.
Here are what some of the companies around Connecticut have announced:
As of March 16, Charter began offering free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to any household with K-12 or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription. Installation fees will also be waived for new student households, who can call 1-844-488-8395 to enroll in the program.
The Stamford based-company said it will partner with local school districts and continue to offer Spectrum Internet Assist, a program that provides internet to eligible low-income households. Charter added that Spectrum does not use data caps.
With respect to bandwidth capabilities, Charter stated its network is “built to sustain sustain maximum capacity during peak usage, which is typically in the evenings," for its 29 million customers across 41 states, “so a surge during the day would be well within the network’s capabilities to manage.”
Comcast, which has hundreds of Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots across the state, has provided a location map to any member of the public in need of free internet, including non-customers. The map can be found at wifi.xfinity.com. Once a person has located their closest hotspot, they must select “xfinitywifi” on their device to connect to the internet and accept the “Terms and Conditions.”
Comcast also announced that it has paused data caps for 60 days to give all customers unlimited data for no additional charge. The company also encouraged low-income families to sign up for 60 days of free internet access under its “Internet Essentials” broadband program, which usually costs about $10 per month. Customers with X1 packages can also access educational collections by grade-level for school-age students by saying “education” into their X1 or Flex voice remote.
The company said its network, engineered for “peak bandwidth utilization” has so far handled usage demands well, and that it will continue to monitor and adjust to ongoing “spikes and shifts” in usage patterns on a national and local level.
Until March 15, Cox said it will eliminate usage overage charges for all customers to meet increased bandwidth demands. Customers who had paid for a 500 GB or unlimited data plans will receive reimbursement through the form of a credit on their billing statement, said a company representative.
Cox is also offering a no-annual contract option with boosted speeds to help low-income households and those impacted by the coronavirus, including senior citizens and college students. The cost for the “starter” service is $19.99. It has also temporarily increased internet speeds for residential customers.
The company is expediting requests to join “Connect2Compete,” a low-cost internet option for families with school-aged children who are enrolled in financial assistance programs. Cox asked schools to contact email@example.com if they are aware of any low-income students who do not currently internet access.
Verizon said it has automatically added 15GB of high speed data to plans for wireless and small business customers. The company is also allowing customers on limited-minute plans unlimited domestic calling through April 30. The company said it does not regularly use data caps for regular customer and small business Fios and DSL internet plans.
AT&T recently announced that it will eliminate data, voice, or text overage charges for residential and small business wireless customers, as well as keep Wi-Fi hotspots open to the public. Customers who pay for home DSL-based internet or limited wireless internet now have access to unlimited data.
AT&T asked customers who are struggling to pay their bill due to pandemic-related financial troubles to contact 800-288-2020 for help. The company will continue to offer qualifying limited income households internet access for $10 a month through the Access from AT&T program.
As of March 13, all current T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers have access to unlimited smartphone data for 60 days, excluding roaming. Customers also have access to free international calling to landline and some mobile numbers in “severely impacted countries.”
On Friday, the company began offering an additional 10GB per month of mobile hotspot data to smartphone customers with existing hotspot plans, and are working to provide low-income customers with up to 5GB for free extra data per month through the Lifeline federal program through May 13.
Sprint, which announced a merger with T-Mobile in February, has waived international per-minute calling fees to countries designated as Level 3 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through May. Customers are still responsible for any monthly charges for add-on international long-distance calling plans, said the company.
Customers with limited data now have free unlimited access for the next two billing cycles. Like T-Mobile, Sprint is offering additional hotspot data.
©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.