Communications is a lifeline for any nation in times of crises, providing the backbone for disseminating critical information. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), this week reported that the number of broadband and telephone service providers committing to keeping consumers connected during the coronavirus pandemic has reached almost 400 organizations.
The commitment by these service providers is to the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge. The participating broadband and telephone service providers pledge: not to 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 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.
“I’m gratified by the overwhelming response by American broadband and telephone service providers to my call for them to ensure consumers stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic,” said Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC. “It is important during this crisis that Americans can keep in touch with family and friends while practicing social distancing, telework, and take part in remote learning and telehealth. I thank all those who are working to Keep Americans Connected and continue to find ways to help consumers meet their needs in light of the pandemic.”
The six largest operators in the U.S. — AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Tracfone, U.S. Cellular and Verizon — have committed to the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. In addition to the almost 400 companies signing the pledge, trade associations such as the ACA Connects, Competitive Carriers of America, CTIA, Incompas, NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, Satellite Industry Association (SIA), USTelecom, Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), and WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband are on board as well.
To help wireless usage stay intact during the pandemic, the FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau this week granted several providers a special temporary authority (STA) which allows them to use additional spectrum to satisfy increased user demand. Companies recently granted the STA included Verizon, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular.
CTIA, representing the U.S. wireless communications industry including carriers, equipment manufacturers, mobile app developers and content creators, has stepped up its efforts to preserve service to impacted communities. Some of those efforts are: Verizon announced $500 million in new network investments; AT&T announced that public safety agencies on FirstNet have access to a dedicated fleet of 76 deployable cell sites at no additional costs; and T-Mobile announced new 600 MHz roaming deals to expand capacity with DISH, Comcast and others.