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Consumer Guide: Internet Providers Respond to the Coronavirus Crisis

ED. NOTE: This is a work in progress and will be updated regularly. There are still further updates coming, and this guide will also include Canadian providers shortly. This article is pinned at the top for now. Scroll down for other articles.

Last updated: 3/18/20 6:25pm EDT — Next update will include Canadian providers.

Internet service providers are relaxing data caps, boosting speeds and capacity, and opening Wi-Fi hotspots to non-customers for at least the next 30-60 days in response to the coronavirus crisis.

Stop the Cap! was among the first to call on providers to ditch data caps at a time when millions of Americans will be working and learning from home. The prospect of getting a larger internet bill with overlimit fees during a pandemic was likely to happen. The decision to suspend caps is applauded by Stop the Cap!, but we cannot help but point out that the rationale for data caps as a traffic management tool is no longer a credible argument. At the same time caps are being relaxed, many providers are boasting their networks are already equipped to handle additional traffic. That admission undercuts the need to have data caps in the first place.

With the recent statement by President Trump that the coronavirus could be with us until July or August, the decision by many providers to suspend caps for up to 60 days is not enough. In our view, caps should be permanently dropped, but providers should be at least willing to make suspension of them indefinite so families need not worry about a rising internet bill just as the economy sinks into shambles.

This guide, to be updated as needed, will explain the various policies in effect at many of the nation’s internet providers. Some discount programs and bill relief may be available to those experiencing income issues. If you click the name of your provider, you will be taken to its coronavirus update page, where available.

AT&T

Consistent with FCC Chairman Pai’s “Keep Americans Connected Pledge” announced today and concerns raised by members of Congress, which we share, AT&T is proud to support our customers by pledging that, for the next 60 days, we will:

  • Not terminate the service of any wireless, home phone or broadband residential or small business customer because of their inability to pay their bill due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Waive any late payment fees that any wireless, home phone or broadband residential or small business customer may incur because of economic hardship related to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Keep our public Wi-Fi hotspots open for any American who needs them.

The coronavirus pandemic is causing many hardships. If you find yourself in financial trouble and unable to pay your bill, we’re here to help you. Please contact us at 800-288-2020 for AT&T broadband, residential wireless or small business services and 611 from your AT&T device for wireless.

To provide further relief and support, AT&T announced:

  • Unlimited AT&T Home Internet – All AT&T consumer home internet wireline customers, as well as Fixed Wireless Internet, can use unlimited internet data.  Additionally, we’ll continue to offer internet access for qualifying limited income households at $10 a month through our Access from AT&T program.
  • AT&T World Connect Advantage – Business customers currently on or who purchase an AT&T World Connect Advantage package receive 50% off the current rate in a monthly bill credit (max $7.50/mo.).*
  • Helping You Work and Learn Remotely – Businesses, universities and schools can keep their teams and classrooms connected through conference calls and video conferencing with Cisco Webex Meetings with AT&T for 90-days, and seamlessly forward calls to both mobile and landline phones with AT&T IP Flexible Reach.
  • Distance Learning – AT&T is underwriting expenses for a “one-stop” resource center to support eLearning Days from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) available to all educators in schools to help them handle school closures and the increase in virtual learning due to COVID-19.

We are currently experiencing a high volume of calls due to COVID-19. To allow us to help as many customers as quickly as possible, we recommend reaching out through att.com or the myAT&T app for support, additional resources or to access our online store.

At this time, our stores are open for business unless there are unique local circumstances.

* Must add World Connect Advantage (WCA) package to eligible postpaid plan during promotion period (3/13/20 to 5/29/20).  Existing WCA customers must contact AT&T to receive credits. Credits start w/in 3 bills. If WCA subscription is cancelled/modified, credits cease.  Other fees & restr’s apply. See offer details

ALASKA COMMUNICATIONS

“Keeping our employees safe, Alaskans connected and giving our customers peace of mind is our priority,” said Alaska Communications President and CEO Bill Bishop.

Alaska Communications offers unlimited internet to all customers today. We have never capped data, so customers will continue to enjoy unlimited data. For the next 60 days, Alaska Communications will also:

  • 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
  • Waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic
  • Waive long distance overage fees as appropriate, related to the coronavirus pandemic
  • Work with communities and government agencies on remote learning and business continuity opportunities, as appropriate

“We have business continuity plans in place to keep our networks up and running to support our communities as we all work together to manage the Coronavirus spread,” said Bishop.

ALTICE/OPTIMUM/SUDDENLINK

For households with K-12 and/or college students who may be displaced due to school closures and who do not currently have home internet access, we are offering our Altice Advantage 30 Mbps broadband solution for free for 60 days to any new customer household within our footprint.

Starting Monday, March 16, 2020, eligible households interested in this solution can call:

  •  866-200-9522 to enroll in Optimum region
  •  888-633-0030 to enroll in Suddenlink region

In addition, Altice USA is proud to have joined the Keep Americans Connected Pledge recently announced by Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. As part of the pledge, Altice USA has committed for the next 60 days to:

  • not terminate broadband and voice 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 any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and
  • open our WiFi hotspots to any American who needs them.

Altice USA is also taking various measures to keep our communities safe, healthy and connected; more information can be found at www.alticeusa.com/coronavirus.

ANTIETAM BROADBAND

Antietam Broadband has taken steps to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus. In addition, with school​closings and more people working remotely, Antietam will take a variety of steps to make our​broadband Internet more accessible to local residents during this crisis.​

Beginning Monday, March 16, 2020:

  • Low-income families, who live in Antietam Broadband’s service area, with a student attending​ Washington County Public Schools can sign up for the Antietam Edu-Net Program and get the first 60 days free. Learn more here.
  • Antietam will suspend fees for exceeding data caps through April 30, 2020. 
  • Antietam will open access to its 120 Community WiFi Hotspots throughout Washington​County for all residents. To locate the nearest hotspot, download the free Antietam WiFi Finder​App from Google Play and Apple App Store, or consult the map on our website here.
  • Antietam will suspend fees for exceeding data caps for all customers through April 30, 2020.​
  • Antietam will temporarily waive late fees and suspend disconnections of service due to failure to pay.
  • To accommodate additional customer needs, Antietam has added more technicians and ​increased its capacity to perform service installations.​

ATLANTIC BROADBAND

We’ve conducted extensive business continuity preparations and, by investing heavily in our broadband network, we’re ready to accommodate increased levels of demand during this time, with no data caps, especially as work-from-home arrangements become increasingly necessary. We’ll also give first priority to network maintenance and service-related appointments for homes and businesses to ensure customer connectivity.

We also want you to know that we have customer care options available that can be accessed from home so that you can quickly get answers and resolve issues:

  • Online and digital self-service: At any time, you can connect with us using convenient self-service tools on our website (and mobile apps that can be downloaded from the Apple and Android app stores). You can troubleshoot services, reboot modems and boxes, check and pay balances, upgrade services, enjoy services remotely, and more.
  • Bill payment options: We have convenient online billing options so that you do not need to travel to an office location to make a payment. See here for more details.

In addition to these measures, to ensure that you and our customers continue to have access to these services:

  • Until further notice, we will not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Until further notice, we will waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers might normally incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic.

We will continue to monitor the situation closely and will provide any pertinent updates to keep you informed. In the meantime, please feel free to contact our Customer Care team 888-536-9600 or contact us by email or chat.

C SPIRE

During health emergencies, hurricanes, power outages and just in daily life, we know people rely on our wireless, home and business services. At C Spire, we have a proven history of helping our customers and communities stay connected in times of need, and we’ve spent years preparing our networks, data centers and other services for situations like this.

Here are a few ways that we’re delivering on our customer inspired promise during this uncertain time and every day.

C Spire Wireless

  • Working with customers impacted by COVID-19 on an individual basis to ensure they have access to the services and assistance they need.
  • Expanded curbside pickup so more customers can get their orders more efficiently.
  • Disinfecting our retail stores daily and regularly cleaning high-traffic areas.
  • Discounted wireless plans for first-responders, military, educators and government employees.
  • Higher data priority for first-responders.
  • No upgrade fees for our wireless customers.
  • No restrictions or fees on making wireless plan adjustments.
  • Certified phone and Mac computer repair for quick, affordable fixes.
  • Free next-day delivery in most cases for online shoppers.
  • Extra deals online, including waived activation fees.

C Spire Home

  • No data caps or overage charges, making it easier for students and employees working from home.
  • C Spire Home technicians are taking extra precautions as they work and adhering to CDC guidelines, helping to protect themselves and others.
  • Local care representatives are available 24/7 to offer support if any issues arise.
  • Symmetrical upload and download speeds for a better experience for videoconferencing, sharing files and more.
  • Ultra-fast gigabit speeds, delivering enough bandwidth for everyone to be on their devices at once without slowdowns.
  • Individual fiber connection for each home so customers don’t have to share bandwidth with their whole neighborhood.
  • Wall-to-wall WiFi coverage with C Spire Smart WiFi, featuring AI security to protect against hackers, malware and more.

C Spire Health

  • Providing an easy-to-use telehealth app that lets Mississippians quickly connect with UMMC clinicians from their phones.
  • Lowering the cost of the C Spire Health app to $29 for all Mississippians. No insurance required.
  • App users can avoid the waiting room and get treated for non-emergency conditions – such as colds, flu and nausea – over audio or video chat.
  • Sharing tips from UMMC health experts on best practices during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Our top priority is the safety of our customers, communities and team members. We’ll continue offering relevant updates as circumstances change, but know that C Spire, as always, is prepared and committed to our customers and communities today and every day.

For more information about COVID-19, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov.

CENTURYLINK

We’re Doing the Right Things

We are proud to share that we’ve taken the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. This means that for the next 60 days, we’ve committed to waive late fees and to not terminate a residential or small business customer’s service due to financial circumstances associated with COVID-19. We are also suspending data usage limits for consumer customers during this time period due to COVID-19.

CINCINNATI BELL

As your hometown provider, we’re here to help you stay connected throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • We recognize that staying in touch with your family, friends, school and work has never been more important.
  • Consistent with FCC Chairman Pai’s “Keep Americans Connected Pledge” announced today and concerns raised by members of Congress, which we share, Cincinnati Bell is proud to support our customers by pledging that, for the next 60 days, we will:
    • Not terminate the service of any Cincinnati Bell residential or small business customer because of their inability to pay their bill due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
    • Waive any late payment fees that any Cincinnati Bell residential or small business customer may incur because of economic hardship related to the coronavirus pandemic.
    • Keep our “Fioptics Free Wi-Fi” public Wi-Fi hotspots open for any American who needs them.

COMCAST

Comcast is taking steps to implement the following new policies for the next 60 days, and other important initiatives:

  • Xfinity WiFi Free For Everyone: Xfinity WiFi hotspots across the country will be available to anyone who needs them for free – including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers. For a map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots, visit www.xfinity.com/wifi. Once at a hotspot, consumers should select the “xfinitywifi” network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser.
  • Pausing Our Data Plan: With so many people working and educating from home, we want our customers to access the internet without thinking about data plans. While the vast majority of our customers do not come close to using 1TB of data in a month, we are pausing our data plans for 60 days giving all customers Unlimited data for no additional charge.
  • No Disconnects or Late Fees: We will not disconnect a customer’s internet service or assess late fees if they contact us and let us know that they can’t pay their bills during this period. Our care teams will be available to offer flexible payment options and can help find other solutions.
  • Internet Essentials Free to New Customers: As announced yesterday, it’s even easier for low-income families who live in a Comcast service area to sign-up for Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program. New customers will receive 60 days of complimentary Internet Essentials service, which is normally available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month. Additionally, for all new and existing Internet Essentials customers, the speed of the program’s Internet service was increased to 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. That increase will go into effect for no additional fee and it will become the new base speed for the program going forward.
  • News, Information and Educational Content on X1: For those with school-age students at home, we’ve created new educational collections for all grade levels in partnership with Common Sense Media. Just say “education” into your X1 or Flex voice remote. To help keep customers informed, we also have created a collection of the most current news and information on Coronavirus. Just say “Coronavirus” into your X1 or Flex voice remote.
  • 24×7 Network Monitoring: Underpinning all of these efforts, Comcast’s technology and engineering teams will continue to work tirelessly to support our network operations. We engineer our network capacity to handle spikes and shifts in usage patterns, and continuously test, monitor and enhance our systems and network to ensure they are ready to support customer usage. Our engineers and technicians staff our network operations centers 24/7 to ensure network performance and reliability. We are monitoring network usage and watching the load on the network both nationally and locally, and to date it is performing well.

COX COMMUNICATIONS

Cox is offering the following over the next 60 days, through May 15:

  • A $19.99 offer for new Starter internet customers with a temporary boost up to 50 Mbps download speeds, no annual contract or qualifications to help low income and those impacted from Coronavirus challenges, like seniors and college students.
  • Eliminating data usage overages beginning today to meet the higher bandwidth demands. Customers with a 500 GB or Unlimited data usage add-on plan will receive credits.
  • Pledging to support the FCC’s Keep America Connected initiatives by:
    • Not terminating service to any residential or small business customer because of an inability to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
    • Waiving any late fees that residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic.
    • Opening Cox Wi-Fi outdoor hotspots to help keep the public connected in this time of need.
  • Providing temporary increases for residential customers in the company’s Starter, StraightUp Internet and Connect2Compete packages to speeds of 50 Mbps.
  • Extending our Cox Complete Care remote desktop support at no charge to residential customers in those tiers to provide remote helpdesk and assistance for loading new applications they may need to use during this time like online classroom support applications and web conferencing services.
  • Offering the first month free to new customers of Connect2Compete, Cox’s low-cost internet product for families with school-aged children who are enrolled in low-income assistance programs ensuring digital equity for students without internet at home. Schools are being asked to contact [email protected] with a list of eligible low-income students that currently do not have an internet connection.
  • Fast-tracking the qualification process for Connect2Compete and https://cox.pcsrefurbished.com/
  • Increasing the speeds of our Essential tier customers from 30 Mbps to 50 Mbps, which was originally planned for later in the year.

GOOGLE FIBER

At Google Fiber, we don’t have the answers to the big questions facing us. But we know that a lot of experts are working to find them, and we’re thankful to the scientists, doctors and nurses, public health experts, government officials and nonprofit organizations working day and night to address the global pandemic of COVID-19.

We also know this: in times like this, connections matter. Possibly — probably — more than at any other time. We believe internet service is always critical to people and communities. In times of crisis, internet service is an even more critical lifeline.

We also feel a deep responsibility to do whatever we can to help flatten the curve and slow the spread of COVID-19 in our Fiber communities. So, we’re closing our Fiber retail spaces and discontinuing outbound sales processes until this crisis abates. We’ll continue to install service for new customers as long as it’s safe and we’re able to do so, and we’ll do everything we can to repair and maintain our network for customers who are relying on it, and on us.

We’ve never had data caps or late fees, and we’ve committed to making sure anyone who is financially impacted by the ongoing coronavirus outbreak will be able to continue their Google Fiber service during this difficult time.

GCI

GCI knows that staying connected is everything, especially now. So, all of us at GCI are pulling together to help you stay connected to the things that matter most. We’re working diligently to provide our neighbors with tools, offers, and customer support during this time.

Here are some of the ways we are working to take care our neighbors. And we are working on even more for you, Alaska. Stay tuned over the next several days as we work to keep our friends and neighbors throughout the state connected.

We’ve signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge

We have joined other carriers across the nation in signing the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, helping ensure our customers stay connected during this critical time.

GCI pledges for the next 60 days to:

  • Not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to COVID-19.
  • Waive late fees any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances due to COVID-19.
  • Open our Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

If your ability to pay is impacted by this pandemic, please contact us so we can work with you individually to waive late fees and avoid suspended service.

Wi-Fi Hotspots Open to Public

Looking to access our Wi-Fi hotspots? There are over 1,000 locations across the state that you can use, and you do not need to be a GCI customer to have access. Some of these locations may have limited public access to their facilities due to health concerns—please contact the organization before you visit and remember to practice social distancing when in public.

Increased our Urban No Worries Internet Speed

Starting on Wednesday 3/18, we are increasing your download speeds on our Urban No Worries internet plans at no additional cost to our customers. We’re opening up more possibility for you to connect. More streaming. More connecting to your loved ones.

As always, your No Worries Internet plan does not have surprise overage fees. Even if you use all the high-speed data included in your plan, you stay connected with 10 Mbps for the remainder of your billing cycle. It truly provides a worry-free online connectivity experience for your entire household, and at the fastest speeds around. With more people staying home right now, No Worries will let more people connect, stream and download at the same time.

GWI

As part of trying to help in any way we can regarding the current coronavirus situation in the US, we at GWI have decided to the following with some other ISP’s in the country, in coordination with FCC:

  • Not terminate service to any residential or small business customer because of an inability to pay their bills due to 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.
  • GWI does not have data caps so not an issue for us, but some ISPs who do have it, are relaxing those constraints.

HAWAIIAN TELCOM
How we’re preparing to handle business during the pandemic:

  • Social distancing of critical employees across separate buildings
  • Network redundancy and backup of our communications infrastructure and network operations
  • Universally trained agents available 24/7 that can answer all of your calls or questions
  • Enabling work from home for many employees by equipping them to safely support customers remotely, leveraging our communication and cloud technologies
  • Ensuring that we’re able to respond to customers in a timely manner through their preferred channel, including chat, phone, web and social media
  • Implementing a health screening pre-survey qualification for all on-premise technician visits

HUGHESNET
If you and/or your family members are at home due to the coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic, you probably are using more of your data than you have in the past. To help you better manage your data usage, here are some recommendations:

  • To track your data usage, download the  HughesNet Mobile App on your mobile device or visit  myHughesNet.com
  • Manage the devices that you have connected to Wi-Fi:
  • Download movies, TV shows, audio books and other large files during Bonus Zone  hours, from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m.
  • Use audio-only mode with conferencing apps like Zoom, Skype, WebEx, Teams and Google Hangout to limit data use

To help improve service for all of our customers during this unusual time, we are increasing the amount of available capacity across the network and providing more data for users who have exceeded their data plan. Additionally, we will not terminate service or impose penalties or fees on those who cannot pay due to the impact of the coronavirus.

MEDIACOM

Mediacom Communications announced today a series of company initiatives directed at helping American families address work, education and health care challenges created by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Specific initiatives include:

  • Increasing the speed of the Mediacom Connect2Compete low-cost internet program to 25 megabits per second (Mbps) down by 3 Mbps up (currently 10 Mbps down by 1 Mbps up). Qualifying families who subscribe before May 15, 2020, will receive 60 days of complimentary Mediacom Connect2Compete service.
  • Extending the pricing of Mediacom’s Access Internet 60 broadband service to new customers at $19.99 per month for the next 12 months (currently retails for $29.99 per month).
  • Pausing monthly data allowances across all Mediacom broadband service tiers through May 15, 2020;
  • Providing complimentary access to all Mediacom Xtream Wi-Fi Hotspots for 60 days.

“Mediacom recognizes our broadband network will continue to be a powerful tool used to combat the spread of the Coronavirus in the more than 1,500 communities we serve,” said John Pascarelli, Mediacom’s EVP of Operations. “By helping as many people as possible get online, we hope to create opportunities for patients to safely connect with their doctors through telemedicine applications, for students to continue their studies online, and for employees to work from home.”

In addition to these changes, Mediacom joined dozens of other internet service providers in signing onto the 60 day Keep Americans Connected Pledge issued by Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai on March 13, 2020. As part of this pledge, Mediacom will not disconnect service or assess late fees to any customer that calls and informs the company that they cannot pay its bills during this period.

RCN/GRANDE/WAVE

Our RCN Network is engineered and built for capacity, speed, reliability, and expansion. In addition, we closely monitor network usage 24×7 to ensure there is ample capacity for an optimal customer experience. With more and more people working from home in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, we continue to see optimal performance of the network, and plenty of excess capacity should that usage increase, while also standing ready to address network issues that may arise with trained and seasoned local technicians. Our robust, fiber-rich network enables us to operate in interconnected footprints on the East and West coasts and in the Central U.S., with back-up capabilities for each. We also have dedicated staff, equipment and supplies across 10 states at the ready to identify and remedy mission critical operations.

We have and will continue to proactively educate our employees on prevention and precaution steps as identified by the CDC and local health officials to ensure they do not exhibit any symptoms and feel safe for themselves and our customers when entering a home.

Our customers, the public, and government agencies are all counting on us to have our services up and running as reliable communication is a critical tool during this time. We are committed and ready to do our part in taking care of each other during this time – our customers, communities, businesses and employees. We’re prepared and here for you!

SONIC BROADBAND

During the COVID-19 outbreak, Sonic is offering three months of free internet access and unlimited nationwide home telephone service to households with K-12, college students, or senior citizens 60 or older.

Based on location, service is available through our fiber-optic network, with symmetric speeds of up to 1Gbps(1000Mbps/1000Mbps download, and upload) or our copper network, with speeds up to 50Mbps. There are no data caps, so it is ideal for students who are streaming distance learning during the coronavirus crisis.

Sonic service provided for three months at no charge to new customer households with Kindergarten through 12th grade students, college students, or senior citizens 60 or older. For financial assistance for current customers, please contact us at [email protected].

NO DATA CAPS: We’ve never had them — so Sonic service is perfect for distance learning and working from home.
NO CONTRACT: There is no long-term commitment. Service is month-to-month, and households may cancel the service at any time during or after the free period.
FREE EQUIPMENT RENTAL: Free WiFi equipment is included for three months.
FREE INSTALLATION: Installation and setup are free. Installers will take COVID-19 precautions, including hand sanitization, gloves, and safety glasses. Sonic staff will not enter homes where any household members are sick or have been in contact with those who are sick, so please contact us if this is your situation to schedule a visit at a later date.

SPARKLIGHT (FORMERLY CABLE ONE)

In an effort to help ease the financial burden and provide continued connectivity for customers impacted by coronavirus (COVID-19), Sparklight today announced that effective immediately, it will be making unlimited data available on all internet services for the next 30 days and waiving late fees for its customers for the next 60 days.

Additionally, Sparklight is offering payment deferrals to customers who call to make arrangements.  The company plans to reassess after 30 days based on the continued impact and evolving nature of the virus.

“We live and work in the communities we serve and these are our friends and neighbors impacted by effects of the coronavirus (COVID-19), so we want to do our part to help,” said Julie Laulis, President and CEO.  “We understand that our customers rely on their Internet service to stay connected to family, work, school and information, and we are committed to ensuring they receive the assistance they need during this time.”

Customers can call 877-692-2253 for more information.

CHARTER/SPECTRUM

To ease the strain in this challenging time, beginning Monday, March 16, Charter commits to the following for 60 days:

  • Charter will offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription and at any service level up to 100 Mbps. To enroll call 1-844-488-8395. Installation fees will be waived for new student households.
  • Charter will partner with school districts to ensure local communities are aware of these tools to help students learn remotely. Charter will continue to offer Spectrum Internet Assist, high speed broadband program to eligible low-income households delivering speeds of 30 Mbps.
  • Charter will open its Wi-Fi hotspots across our footprint for public use.
  • Spectrum does not have data caps or hidden fees.

SPRINT

As more and more people across the country are being impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19),we want our customers, employees and communities to know that during this very difficult time, Sprint is putting in place the following measures to help customers impacted by this unprecedented event:

For our customers:

  • Today, Sprint signed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge. For the next 60 days, we will support our residential and small business customers by:
    • Not terminating service if they are unable to pay their Sprint bill because of the coronavirus, and
    • Waiving late fees incurred because of economic circumstances related to the pandemic.
  • Customers with international long distance calling plans will receive complimentary international calling rates from the U.S. to countries defined by the CDC as Level 3.
  • We’ve expanded our capacity, coverage and roaming access with T-Mobile to thousands of additional locations over the next 60 days.
  • We have waived all activation and upgrade fees. Plus, we are providing free next day shipping for upgrades and new phone orders.
  • By next Thursday:
    • Customers with metered data plans will receive unlimited data per month for 60 days (a minimum of two bill cycles) at no extra cost.
    • We will provide customers with an additional 20GB of mobile hotspot data per month for 60 days (a minimum of two bill cycles) at no extra cost.
  • Coming soon:
    • Customers with mobile hotspot-capable handsets who don’t have mobile hotspot today will now get 20GB as well per month for 60 days (a minimum of two bill cycles) at no extra cost.

Sprint’s Support of 1Million Project Foundation:

  • The 1Million Project Foundation’s efforts to connect kids without home internet has become that much more important to schools, community leaders and district administrators as they grapple with ongoing educational challenges as schools are canceled. Starting next Tuesday, we will be increasing the data allotment provided to students from 10GB to 20GB each month from now through June 30, 2020.
  • Sprint will continue to support the 1Million Project Foundation’s 350,000 high school students who lack critical internet access at home and its mission to connect hundreds of thousands more in the future.
  • We are making every effort to accelerate our receipt of more than 100,000 new devices intended for use next school year so that we can deploy them as soon as possible to respond to the new environment.

Sprint’s Stores:

  • We will temporarily close approximately 71% of Sprint retail stores across the country starting today, March 17. We strongly urge customers visit sprint.com or their My Sprint mobile app for service and sales needs. However, if a store visit is necessary, please visit storelocator.sprint.com to find an available store near you.
  • In addition, all of Sprint Express at Walgreens locations will close temporarily, as well as stores within indoor malls and all stores in Puerto Rico (per the mandate of the local government).

Starry

As part of its commitment to keep our communities connected and online during the nation’s response to COVID-19, Starry, a wideband hybrid fiber wireless internet service provider, will provide all of its current Starry Connect customers with free service until the end of May. Starry Connect is a specialized affordable broadband program that partners directly with public and affordable housing owners to provide low-cost true broadband access with no data caps, long-term contracts or complex eligibility requirements for only $15 per month. To support this effort to keep families connected and online during the response to COVID-19, Related Companies, Starry’s largest affordable housing partner, has committed to covering the cost of Starry Connect for its residents who currently subscribe to the program.

“Our country is facing uncertain times and anything that we can do to bring a little more certainty to the communities we serve is important,” said Virginia Lam Abrams, Starry’s Senior Vice President of Government Affairs and Strategic Advancement. “Beginning today, for subscribers currently in our Starry Connect program or for those who wish to sign up, we will cover the cost of their internet connectivity through the end of May, so they don’t have to worry about the cost of staying connected during this COVID-19 crisis. Keeping our communities connected and productive is essential over these next few weeks and Starry is proud to do what we can to help.”

Starry has taken a number of actions in response to the COVID-19 health crisis to support the communities it serves:

  • Last week, Starry pledged to suspend cancellation of service due to nonpayment as it relates to COVID-19.
  • Starry moved to expand its Starry Connect program to nearly 600 additional units of affordable housing in New York City.
  • The Federal Communications Commission and Congressional Leaders last week called upon internet service providers to suspend certain punitive customer practices, such as data caps and waive certain fees during the nation’s response to COVID-19. Starry’s internet service has never had additional fees, late fees or data caps as a standard business practice.

TDS TELECOM

TDS is committed to offering reliable, resilient communications service to our customers, in good times and in times of crisis. We anticipate the COVID-19 viral outbreak will increase Internet usage demands as more customers find themselves working, learning and otherwise staying at home. We’d like to share our operations support and business continuity strategy with you, so you can rest assured your service is supported.

Our Pandemic Tactical Team is actively monitoring the situation in a coordinated manner with federal, state, and local health and safety officials. We are implementing the following strategies and protocols to protect our customers and employees, while also keeping our network performing for you.

Specifically:

  1. Our network infrastructure is built and maintained to anticipate future demand, not simply to keep up with what today might bring.
  2. Our Business Continuity Plan further addresses crisis events. The cornerstone is a robust, redundant network with backup systems strategically placed to safeguard against unexpected disruptions in the network. We are taking steps to monitor available bandwidth and will increase staffing to address isolated incidents, if they arise.
  3. Our Operations team leverages real-time technology with human expertise to match customer bandwidth demand with system performance.
  4. Our geographically diverse workforce is able to transfer traffic, inquiries and workload to alternate locations if needed. Our workforce is also equipped to work from home as much as necessary to adapt to evolving CDC recommendations.
  5. All non-essential travel and in-person meetings are being suspended in lieu of virtual meetings.
  6. Any staff that interacts directly with customers has received additional hygiene training and sanitation toolkits, to ensure both the employee and the customer is fully protected.
  7. Before scheduling business or in-home visits, customers will be asked if anyone in the home or business is exhibiting symptoms. To maximize everyone’s safety and to prevent further spread of illness, our staff may ask for your cooperation in rescheduling service appointments if the status has changed by the time of the appointment.
  8. We would like to proactively ask for your patience when it comes to scheduling on-premise technician visits. We may experience some unavoidable periods of peak demand if we have staff following CDC recommendations for self-isolation.
  9. Finally, we are committed to supporting customers who are the hardest hit by the economic challenges attributed to the outbreak. Customers directly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic will remain connected and late fees will be suspended for at least the next 60 days.
  10. New customers with students or financial need will be eligible for 60 days of free internet access, to help assist with work- or school-at-home scenarios.

If you have any service-related questions or concerns, please reach out to us at 1-866-278-2472.

T-MOBILE

The vast majority of customers on T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile plans already have unlimited talk, text and data, and our T-Mobile Home Internet customers already have unlimited plans with no data caps or surcharges. But in these unique circumstances, access to unlimited data is more important than ever. So today we are stepping up to take measures that will ensure that ALL current T-Mobile customers on plans that currently have data are provided the unlimited connectivity they need to learn and work.

  • Starting now – ALL current T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers who have plans with data will have unlimited smartphone data for the next 60 days (excluding roaming).
  • Providing T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers an additional 20GB of mobile hotspot / tethering service for the next 60 days – coming soon.
  • Working with our Lifeline partners to provide customers extra free data up to 5GB of data per month over the next two months.
  • Increasing the data allowance for free to schools and students using our EmpowerED digital learning programs to ensure each participant has access to at least 20GB of data per month for the next 60 days.

Additionally, we are now:

  • Offering free international calling for ALL current T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers to Level 3 impacted countries.
  • Supporting the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge focused on ensuring residential and small business customers with financial impacts do not lose service.

Important notice about store locations:

  • T-Mobile will temporarily close about 80% of its’ company-owned retail stores until at least March 31st
  • The stores that remain open, which are distributed across the country, will operate on reduced schedules and only stay open for eight hours each day – from 10 am to 6 pm local time for most stores. Indoor mall stores are closing. 
  • In Care facilities (where the public does not access), T-Mobile is taking steps to reduce staffing levels and increasing the distance between workstations to create additional personal space
  • At stores and in Care facilities, hygiene and sanitization efforts will remain a priority.

U.S. CELLULAR

To support our customers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Cellular has signed on to the Keep Americans Connected Pledge.

As part of this pledge, for the next 60 days, U.S. Cellular 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 the coronavirus pandemic;
  • Waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic

Update to Store Hours:

To help further protect our customers and associates from the spread of COVID-19, we are temporarily reducing store hours at our company-owned retail locations, effective today.

Operating hours will be 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. local time Monday through Saturday, until further notice.

Many of our authorized agent locations are also operating with reduced hours, and we encourage you to call ahead before visiting one of our locations.

VERIZON

  • Verizon’s fiber optic and wireless networks have been able to meet the shifting demands of customers and continue to perform well.
  • Verizon will offer free international calling to countries identified by the Center for Disease Control as level 3 impacted by the coronavirus effective 3/18 through the end of April. This is available to wireless postpaid consumer and small/medium business customers, and landline home phone customers. Unlimited calls will be included to mobile and landline termination. Effective 3/19, wireless prepaid customers will also receive a total of 300 additional minutes to call level 3 countries.
  • Verizon will also waive activation fees on new lines of service and upgrade fees starting March 18. This applies to all purchases and service-only activations made through Verizon digital channels, such as verizonwireless.com and the My Verizon app.
  • Investing in our economy by increasing our capital guidance range from $17 – $18 billion to $17.5 – $18.5 billion in 2020.
  • Expanding work-from-home policy to include reduction of retail locations and hours across the country; fewer employees working at stores; limiting the number of customers in our stores at one time.
  • Verizon announced support for relief efforts across communities impacted by the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by tripling its monthly data allowance for its Verizon Innovative Learning schools and committing $10 million to nonprofits directed at supporting students and first responders.
  • As the list of nationwide K-12 schools shifting to remote learning heightens, Verizon is supporting the students and teachers in its Verizon Innovative Learning program, the company’s education initiative targeting Title 1 middle schools, by tripling their data allowances.
  • Created a coronavirus hub page, https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus/, across the Yahoo ecosystem that aggregates trusted and reliable news and content about the pandemic in the U.S. and across the globe.
  • Partnering with those on the front lines of the Covid-19 emergency response, first responders, federal agencies, state and local governments, and public health agencies, to deliver on critical missions during crisis.

First responders, governments and public health agencies

We are partnering with first responders, federal agencies, state and local governments, public health agencies and others around the world at the forefront of Covid-19 emergency response to deliver on critical missions for their constituents and all of the communities that we serve.

  • We’re giving first responders priority access to our networks so that they can perform their essential duties, including saving lives, while maintaining dedicated communications with their departments, hospitals and others who are battling this crisis on the front line

  • We’re coordinating with law enforcement and emergency response teams, deploying portable cell sites to add network capacity at Emergency Operations Centers, mobile testing sites and quarantine areas nationwide.

  • In an effort to reduce the stress on hospitals and the healthcare system, we are supporting industry-specific apps to enable telehealth solutions and helping healthcare agencies care for patients and enable coronavirus testing through the use of connected technologies — smartphones and tablets.

  • We have enabled thousands of conference lines for federal, state, local and healthcare organizations to enable new, secure work-from-home strategies, and launched new interactive voice response services (IVRs) to help both healthcare and public sector agencies prioritize and more effectively route incoming coronavirus-related calls.

  • The Verizon Response Team, which supports governments and nonprofits 24/7/365, is responding to local public sector and government customer needs for additional connectivity, assets and equipment as needed. Teams are also working with government agencies to stand up additional call centers and work-from-home solutions that help serve citizens.

Our retail stores

Out of an abundance of caution and to balance the safety of our employees with that of our customers, all Verizon owned and operated stores will be closed on Sundays beginning March 15 through Sunday, April 12. In addition, from March 15 – 31, stores that are open will operate on reduced hours Monday thru Saturday, 10 AM-5 PM. Customers can find an up to date listing of store hours/locations by visiting: https://www.verizonwireless.com/stores.

Beginning Tuesday, March 17, in order to increase social distancing and allow more employees to take advantage of work from home, we’re reducing by 50 percent, the number of employees working shifts in our retail locations and paying employees for any shifts they may miss due to these scheduling changes. In addition, the number of customers in a store may not exceed the number of employees working at any given time.

VIASAT

In alignment with the FCC’s request to all Internet Service Providers (ISPs), Viasat pledges for the next 60 days to: (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 Wi-Fi hotspots, in conjunction with partners, to any American who needs them.

Mark Dankberg, chairman and CEO of Viasat commented, “We understand this is an extremely unsettling time for many of our customers as the world confronts the threat of COVID-19. Our goal is to help provide internet continuity to all of our customers who count on us to stay connected—whether at home or at work. We are committed to enable our customers to stay informed, productive and connected to friends, family, colleagues and loved ones.”

WINDSTREAM

Windstream has signed the FCC’s Keep America Connected pledge. Through May 12, Windstream will not suspend service to customers because of the inability to pay their bills specifically due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Also, during this time, Windstream will waive any late fees because of customers’ economic circumstances specifically related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Additionally, Windstream offers a variety of internet service plans for new and existing customers with no data caps and no overage charges. Discounts also are available for low-income customers through the Lifeline Assistance Program. For more information on current offers, visit www.windstream.com.

Stay tuned for more updates!

New AT&T TV Streaming Service is Loaded With Costly Tricks and Traps

Phillip Dampier March 2, 2020 AT&T, AT&T TV, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 1 Comment

AT&T has created a streaming television bundle that cable and satellite subscribers can appreciate. Replicating the kind of promotions familiar to DirecTV subscribers, AT&T debuted its new streaming TV service nationwide this morning with three promotionally priced packages that start at a relatively low price and end with a very high one.

AT&T TV is intended to fill the gap between bare bones, slimmed-down packages offered by services like Sling TV and the bloated television packages offered by traditional cable and satellite providers. The new service is part of AT&T’s plan to gradually wind down DirecTV satellite service and U-verse TV, delivering video content over the internet instead of by cable or satellite. AT&T has already ceased marketing its U-verse TV service and intends to do the same with DirecTV, which had been heavily advertised for years. The best new customer promotions will likely be targeted towards its new streaming service as well.

AT&T TV’s set-top box and remote control.

Unlike AT&T’s cord-cutting package — AT&T TV Now, AT&T TV features hundreds of channels, a 500-hour DVR that will store recordings up to 90 days, and over 40,000 on-demand shows. AT&T TV carries just about every cable channel imaginable, along with a healthy amount of regional and national sports, most local stations, scores of international channels in several languages, and premium movie channels galore. AT&T TV does not have the bandwidth and capacity constraints U-verse and DirecTV have, so the service can offer as many channels as customers can afford.

To watch, you need an internet connection with at least 8 Mbps for “optimal viewing.” If you want to bundle AT&T’s gigabit fiber service with AT&T TV, the company offers an extra $10/mo off for the first 12 months of your 24 month contract.

One of AT&T’s biggest selling points for its new TV service is its bundled set-top box, powered by Google’s Android TV. That gives subscribers access to apps in the Google Play Store, which means integrating Netflix, Hulu, and just about any other music or video streaming app is easy. Customers also can benefit from AT&T’s voice remote, which uses Google Assistant.

A careful review of the terms and conditions quickly reveals that this new service is not intentioned for cord-cutters. For starters, AT&T TV channel lineups are larger than other cord-cutting services, and are priced accordingly. The cheapest package on offer — Entertainment (~73 channels), is priced at $93 a month after the new customer promotion expires. AT&T TV also includes a two-year term contract satellite users are well familiar with. If you cancel early, you are subject to an early cancellation penalty of $15 for each month remaining on your contract. A sports programming fee of up to $8.49/mo is charged separately for some customers. A $19.95 setup fee also applies, along with equipment fees of $10/mo for each additional set-top box (the first one is included). Customers can also buy the box outright for $120.

AT&T protects its other video services from revenue cannibalization by disallowing new customer discounts for existing DirecTV and U-verse TV customers. For everyone else, here is what you can expect to pay:

  • Entertainment: $49.99/mo for months 1-12, $93/mo for months 13-24.
  • Choice: $54.99/mo for months 1-12, $110/mo for months 13-24.
  • XTRA: $64.99/mo for months 1-12, $124/mo for months 13-24.
  • Ultimate: $69.99/mo for months 1-12, $135/mo for months 13-24.
  • Optimo Más: $54.99/mo for months 1-12, $86.99 for months 13-24.

Some other points:

  • AT&T TV allows up to three concurrent streams.
  • Regional Sports Fee of up to $8.49/mo. applies to Choice and higher packages.
  • Additional set-top boxes are $10/mo or can be purchased for $120.
  • A $50 AT&T Visa® Reward Card is available if you order AT&T TV online. Expires: 3/31/2020. For new residential customers only. Residents of select multi-dwelling units not eligible.
  • Save an additional $10/mo. for 12 months on TV when you bundle with internet or wireless.
  • $19.95 activation fee.
  • Early termination fee of $15/mo for each month remaining on agreement.
  • Equipment non-return fee may apply if you fail to return equipment when ending service.

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint Face Huge Fines for Reselling Your Location Data to… Anyone

Phillip Dampier February 27, 2020 AT&T, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon No Comments

The Federal Communications Commission will seek hundreds of millions of dollars in fines from America’s four largest wireless companies after company officials apparently lied to Congress and regulators about ending the lucrative sale of customer locations to third parties in early 2019.

The Wall Street Journal reported the FCC has sent Notices of Apparent Liability to Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint accusing the companies of continuing to sell the real-time locations of customers after telling Congress they would stop.

The companies allegedly routinely sold personal customer data to middlemen companies that had very few controls over who ultimately received that information. Clients included private investigators, debt collectors, police agencies, and even potentially ex-partners engaged in stalking. Customers have never been clearly informed that their location data was subject to resale to third parties, and privacy concerns were immediately raised after revelations data aggregators LocationSmart, Inc., and Zumigo, Inc., were selling data to inappropriate entities and individuals.

After being exposed in early 2019, all four carriers promised to end or curtail the practice, but an FCC investigation found carriers were not being forthright.

In January, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai disclosed the practice because of ongoing oversight by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which had demanded an investigation by the FCC early last year. In a letter to the Committee, Pai wrote that the agency found U.S. carriers “apparently” broke the law by continuing to sell location data.

“I am committed to ensuring that all entities subject to our jurisdiction comply with the Communications Act and the FCC’s rules, including those that protect consumers’ sensitive information, such as real-time location data,” Pai wrote.

Too little, too late, according to Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who chairs the Committee.

(Image by Brad Jonas originally for Pando.com)

“Following our longstanding calls to take action, the FCC finally informed the Committee today that one or more wireless carriers apparently violated federal privacy protections by turning a blind eye to the widespread disclosure of consumers’ real-time location data,” Pallone said in a statement in January, 2019. “This is certainly a step in the right direction, but I’ll be watching to make sure the FCC doesn’t just let these lawbreakers off the hook with a slap on the wrist.”

Today’s revelations infuriated Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) who tweeted:

“Ajit Pai has failed to protect consumers at every turn. This issue came to light after my office and dedicated journalists discovered how wireless carriers shared Americans’ locations without consent. He investigated only after public pressure mounted.”

Consumers often unwittingly share their real-time locations with cell phone providers whenever their phones are switched on and connected to a cellular or Wi-Fi network. Carriers have developed a lucrative business reselling that information to third parties, typically data aggregators that combine location information with data collected from other companies and sell it on. Buyers often include law enforcement agencies and private investigators, but one reporter found it simple as an individual to get real-time data about his location by paying $300 to a data aggregator. Privacy advocates worry that stalkers could easily track their victims through such services, with victims unaware their own cell phone company betrayed their location in return for money.

A Notice of Apparent Liability demands a written response from a targeted individual or company to explain why they should not be subject to the monetary penalty specified in the letter. Many companies win significant reductions or fine waivers through negotiations with the FCC. The Journal reports that so far, the FCC has not been willing to offer settlements, but that could change as carriers try to negotiate a settlement through the agency’s administrative process.

The article does not specify the exact fines targeted for each carrier. AT&T and Verizon have more than adequate financial resources to pay almost any fine in full. But a multi-million fine against T-Mobile and Sprint could complicate the final agreement between T-Mobile and Sprint to merge, which is expected to happen in the coming weeks. Under the revised merger agreement, both companies agreed to split any expenses related to liabilities up to $200 million, leaving Sprint investor-owner SoftBank responsible for the rest.

Regulators… Captured: AT&T Gets FCC to Omit Bad Internet Speed Scores It Doesn’t Like

AT&T was unhappy with the low internet speed score the FCC was about to give the telecom giant, so it made a few phone calls and got the government regulator to effectively rig the results in its favor.

“Regulatory capture” is a term becoming more common in administrations that enable regulators that favor friendly relations with large companies over consumer protection, and under the Trump Administration, a very business-friendly FCC has demonstrated it is prepared to go the distance for some of the country’s largest telecom companies.

Today, the Wall Street Journal reported AT&T successfully got the FCC to omit DSL speed test results from the agency’s annual “Measuring Broadband America” report. Introduced during the Obama Administration, the internet speed analysis was designed to test whether cable and phone companies are being honest about delivering the broadband speed they advertise. Using a small army of test volunteers that host a free speed testing router in their home (full disclosure: Stop the Cap! is a volunteer host), automated testing of broadband performance is done silently by the equipment on an ongoing basis, with results sent to SamKnows, an independent company contracted to manage the data for the FCC’s project.

In 2011, the first full year of the program, results identified an early offender — Cablevision/Optimum, which advertised speed it couldn’t deliver to many of its customers because its network was oversold and congested. Within months, the company invested millions to dramatically expand internet capacity and speeds quickly rose, sometimes beyond the advertised level. In general, fiber and cable internet providers traditionally deliver the fastest and most reliable internet speed. Phone companies selling DSL service usually lag far behind in the results. One of those providers happened to be AT&T.

In the last year, the Journal reports AT&T successfully appealed to the FCC to keep its DSL service’s speed performance out of the report and withheld important information from the FCC required to validate some of the agency’s results.

The newspaper also found multiple potential conflicts of interest in both the program and SamKnows, its contracted partner:

  • Providers get the full names of customers using speed test equipment, and some (notably Cablevision/Optimum) regularly give speed test customers white glove treatment, including prioritized service, performance upgrades and extremely fast response times during outages that could affect the provider’s speed test score. Jack Burton, a former Cablevision engineer said “there was an effort to make sure known [users] had up-to-date equipment” like modems and routers. Cablevision also marked as “high priority” the neighborhoods that contained speed-testing users, ensuring that those neighborhoods got upgraded ahead of others, said other former Cablevision engineers close to the effort.
  • Providers can tinker with the raw data, including the right to exclude results from speed test volunteers subscribed to an “unpopular” speed tier (usually above 100 Mbps), those using outdated or troublesome equipment, or are signed up to an “obsolete” speed plan, like low-speed internet. Over 25% of speed test results (presumably unfavorable to the provider) were not included in the last annual report because cable and phone companies objected to their inclusion.
  • SamKnows sells providers immediate access to speed test data and the other data volunteers measure for a fee, ostensibly to allow providers to identify problems on their networks before they end up published in the FCC’s report. Critics claim this gives providers an incentive to give preferential treatment to customers with speed testing equipment.

Some have claimed internet companies have gained almost total leverage over the FCC speed testing project.

The Journal:

Internet experts and former FCC officials said the setup gives the internet companies enormous leverage. “How can you go to the party who controls the information and say, ‘please give me information that may implicate you?’ ” said Tom Wheeler, a former FCC chairman who stepped down in January 2017. Jim Warner, a retired network engineer who has helped advise the agency on the test for years, told the FCC in 2015 that the rules for providers were too lax. “It’s not much of a code of conduct,” Mr. Warner said.

An FCC spokesman told the Journal the program has a transparent process and that the agency will continue to enable it “to improve, evolve, and provide meaningful results as we move forward.”

The stakes of the FCC’s speed tests are enormous for providers, now more reliant than ever on the highly profitable broadband segment of their businesses. They also allow providers to weaponize  favorable performance results to fight off consumer protection efforts that attempt to hold providers accountable for selling internet speeds undelivered. In some high stakes court cases, the FCC’s speed test reports have been used to defend providers, such as the lawsuit filed by New York’s Attorney General against Charter Communications over the poor performance of Time Warner Cable. The parties eventually settled that case.

In 2018, the key takeaway from the report celebrated by providers in testimony, marketing, and lobbying, was that “for most of the major broadband providers that were tested, measured download speeds were 100% or better of advertised speeds during the peak hours.”

Comcast often refers to the FCC’s results in claims about XFINITY internet service: “Recent testing performed by the FCC confirms that Comcast’s broadband internet access service is one of the fastest, most reliable broadband services in the United States.” But in 2018, Comcast also successfully petitioned to FCC to exclude speed test results from 214 of its testing customers, the highest number surveyed among individual providers. In contrast, Charter got the FCC to ignore results from 148 of its customers, Mediacom asked the FCC to ignore results from 46 of its internet customers.

Among the most remarkable findings uncovered by the Journal was the revelation AT&T successfully got the FCC to exclude all of its DSL customers’ speed test results, claiming that it would not be proper to include data for a service no longer being marketed to customers. AT&T deems its DSL service “obsolete” and no longer worthy of being covered by the FCC. But the company still actively markets DSL to prospective customers. This year, AT&T also announced it was no longer cooperating with SamKnows and its speed test project, claiming AT&T has devised a far more accurate speed testing project itself that it intends to use to self-report customer speed testing data.

Cox also managed to find an innovative way out of its poor score for internet speed consistency, which the FCC initially rated a rock bottom 37% of what Cox advertises. Cox claimed its speed test results were faulty because SamKnows’ tests sent traffic through an overcongested internet link yet to be upgraded. That ‘unfairly lowered Cox’s ratings’ for many of its Arizona customers, the company successfully argued, and the FCC put Cox’s poor speed consistency rating in a fine print footnote, which included both the 37% rating and a predicted/estimated reliability rating of 85%, assuming Cox properly routed its internet traffic.

The FCC report also downplays or doesn’t include data about internet slowdowns on specific websites, like Netflix or YouTube. Complaints about buffering on both popular streaming sites have been regularly cited by angry customers, but the FCC’s annual report signals there is literally nothing wrong with most providers.

Providers still fear their own network slowdowns or problems during known testing periods. The Journal reports many have a solution for that problem as well — temporarily boosting speeds and targeting better performance of popular websites and services during testing periods and returning service to normal after tests are finished.

James Cannon, a longtime cable and telecom engineering executive who left Charter in February admitted that is standard practice at Spectrum.

“I know that goes on,” he told the Journal. “If they have a scheduled test with a government agency, they will be very careful about how that traffic is routed on the network.”

As a result, the FCC’s “independent” annual speed test report is now compromised by large telecom companies, admits Maurice Dean, a telecom and media consultant with 22 years’ experience working on streaming, cable and telecom projects.

“It is problematic,” Dean said. “This attempt to ‘enhance’ performance for these measurements is a well-known practice in the industry,’ and makes the FCC results “almost meaningless for describing actual user experience.”

Tim Wu, a longtime internet advocate, likened the speed test program as more theoretical than actual, suggesting it was like measuring the speed of a car after getting rid of traffic.

AT&T Will Pay $60 Million in Refunds to Throttled and Scammed “Unlimited Data” Customers

AT&T will pay $60 million to compensate unlimited data customers that found their data speeds throttled without warning because AT&T deemed them ‘heavy users’ that were slowing down AT&T’s wireless network.

“AT&T baited subscribers with promises of unlimited data, trapped them in multi-year contracts with punishing termination fees, and then scammed them by choking off their access unless they moved to a more expensive plan,” claimed FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra. “The AT&T throttling scandal is an important case study into how dominant firms operating without meaningful competition can easily renege on their contractual obligations and cheat consumers who have almost no recourse.”

The $60 million in compensation is part of a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission that accused the company of false and misleading advertising after marketing an unlimited data plan subject to severe speed reductions after as little as 2 GB of usage. AT&T also agreed to a permanent injunction forbidding the company from advertising unlimited data plans without clear disclosures that such plans were subject to speed throttling. AT&T will have to prominently disclose such limitations in the future and not in the fine print.

“AT&T promised unlimited data—without qualification—and failed to deliver on that promise,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “While it seems obvious, it bears repeating that Internet providers must tell people about any restrictions on the speed or amount of data promised.”

AT&T’s throttling came to light in 2011 after the company was found to be slashing “unlimited data” smartphone users’ speeds to as low as 128 kbps — roughly 2-3 times the speed of dial up data, after a customer reached 2 GB of usage during a billing month. The FTC claims over 3.5 million AT&T customers were subjected to AT&T’s speed throttle as of October 2014 when the federal agency filed a formal complaint against the wireless carrier.

AT&T fought the FTC in and out of court for five years, claiming the FTC had no jurisdiction over its wireless business. The Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals disagreed in 2018, when it ruled that the FTC did have jurisdiction to pursue its false advertising claims against the company. Observers believed this court ruling forced AT&T to move towards a settlement.

AT&T’s past and current wireless customers targeted for speed throttling will automatically receive compensation without having to file a claim. The settlement provides customers throttled to 128 kbps an equal share of $13.8 million set aside to compensate current and former customers for the loss of value of their unlimited plan, plus interest. Those throttled to 256 or 512 kbps will split $46.2 million. Current customers will be provided a bill credit, former customers will receive a check in the mail, assuming AT&T can locate your current address. Any unclaimed funds will be sent to the FTC and will not be kept by AT&T. Customers can expect refunds within the next 90 days.

Wireless carriers selling “unlimited data” routinely bury restrictions on such plans in their fine print. Most limit customers to between 20-50 GB of usage per month, after which the company reserves the right to dramatically reduce your data speeds until the next billing cycle begins. The FTC is increasingly concerned that advertising unlimited service while burying important restrictions in the fine print is false advertising. The FTC is sending a message to wireless companies it wants hidden disclosures stopped.

The Commission vote approving the stipulated final order was 4-0-1. Commissioner Rebecca Kelly Slaughter was recused.

FTC Commissioner Deepak Chopra issued a scathing statement about how AT&T does business:

Chopra

AT&T’s Nationwide Bait-and-Switch Scam

When any business, big or small, offers an unlimited service for a fixed fee, that business is taking a risk. If customers use much more of the service than projected, the company will take a hit. Conversely, if customers use less than projected, the company will haul in even larger profits. This is how business works.

As detailed in the Commission’s complaint, AT&T wanted the rewards without the risks, so it turned its offer of an “unlimited” data plan into a bait-and-switch scam that victimized millions of Americans.

Subscribers were lured in with promises of unlimited data service for a fixed fee, trapped into multiple years of service by punitive termination fees, and then forced to switch to a more expensive tiered plan with overage fees to actually receive the unlimited data they were promised.

This scam went hand-in-hand with AT&T’s early monopoly in the iPhone market. In 2007, Apple and AT&T inked a major deal that gave purchasers of the iPhone only one choice for a mobile carrier.

Around this time, AT&T faced a major threat to its wireless business: the company was losing exclusivity over the iPhone. Analysts warned that the company could be “demolished,” potentially losing millions of customers to Verizon.

To prevent this from happening, AT&T aimed to lock down existing subscribers into new long-term contracts by “grandfathering” them in to their unlimited plans when they upgraded their phones. Since data usage can be unpredictable and hard to track, an unlimited plan without risk of overage fees created certainty for cost-conscious consumers.

AT&T throttles

How low can AT&T go? Some wireless customers were throttled to 128 kbps speed after using just 2 GB of data on their AT&T Unlimited Plan.

AT&T is a sophisticated company. It knew it needed to invest in enough capacity to deliver service for subscribers who used a lot of data under their unlimited plans, especially since the company had claimed its network was the “fastest” in the nation.

Instead of living up to its promises, AT&T pulled a bait-and switch.

First, to hold on to customers who might switch to the competition, AT&T marketed an unlimited data plan that was not actually unlimited. AT&T subscribers who signed up for newer phones with unlimited service were likely those who intended to use the most data. Instead, these subscribers were throttled the most, and ended up receiving the slowest, most unreliable data coverage.

According to the FTC’s complaint, roughly 3.5 million customers victimized by AT&T’s fraud saw their speeds go down by up to 95 percent. The iPhone’s internet-intensive functions were practically unusable on AT&T’s network at the diminished speeds. This Swiss-cheese service was not the unlimited deal that was promised. Americans in rural areas without broadband connections, as well as those who depended on the service for their livelihood, got a particularly raw deal.

Second, AT&T made it hard to walk away, trapping subscribers in contract terms. Until 2011, AT&T was the only carrier offering the iPhone and the only network the iPhone worked on. As the exclusive iPhone carrier, AT&T dictated the terms of access, which included signing long-term contracts with big penalties for leaving early. After AT&T lost iPhone exclusivity, new carriers entered the market promising better coverage. But most existing iPhone users were stuck with AT&T until their contracts ran out, unless they paid the expensive early termination fee. And when their contracts did run out, AT&T induced them to renew with false promises of “unlimited” service.

Third, AT&T pushed subscribers into switching to more expensive plans. AT&T allocated the most data and most reliable service to capped data plans with overage fees, while imposing arbitrary limits on subscribers in “unlimited” plans. Unlimited data subscribers who wanted reliable service could pay a big fee to switch carriers, or they could switch for free to a capped data plan with no throttling. While these plans might have been cheaper upfront than the unlimited plan, their low data cap, the high cost of overages, and the expanding capabilities of smartphones made a service price hike inevitable for Americans who wanted what they signed up for. The only truly unlimited data service was therefore available solely through capped plans with expensive overages.

AT&T’s bait-and-switch scam is a good window into the many harms that result from dominant companies operating without the discipline of meaningful competition. Their market power, financial resources, and one-sided information gives them license to ignore their own contractual obligations while aggressively enforcing every little clause in the fine print. Consumers can accept the bad deal, walk away, or fight it, but each choice carries a cost, with dominant firms prevailing almost every time.

In my view, AT&T profited by using its dominance to force customers to keep their end of the deal even as the company failed to deliver and then changed the terms. AT&T’s unlimited data subscribers could have kept paying for limited, unreliable service, paid the penalty to switch to a carrier with better service, or paid a price hike to get the unlimited data service they had been promised. But none of those are good options.

Wireless companies are spending more money on stock buybacks than they are investing in their networks.

AT&T’s broken promises were not inevitable. The company could have upheld its obligations to its customers by making the right infrastructure investments. It certainly had the money to do so. From 2011 to 2015, AT&T paid tens of billions of dollars in dividends and share buybacks. In 2012, as the company boasted to investors that customers were fleeing its unlimited plan for tiered plans, it spent more on share buybacks than it invested in its wireless network. The bottom line is that AT&T fleeced its customers to enrich its executives and its investors.

Scrutiny for Scammers of All Sizes

The FTC sued AT&T in 2014, and an exceptional group of staff litigators racked up big wins in this case. Our staff even prevailed in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, when AT&T tried to sidestep accountability for this massive fraud by claiming it was immune from the FTC’s oversight. I am extremely grateful to our litigators and investigators who persisted, and I am glad to see money being returned to consumers. No settlement is perfect. While I would have liked to see AT&T pay more for the company’s scheme, I fully appreciate the risks and resources associated with litigation.

There are also important lessons from this matter that I hope the entire agency can learn.

Scammers come in all sizes. During my tenure as a commissioner, I have raised concerns about disparate treatment of small firms, where the agency is quick to call out their fraud and where resolutions can include crippling consequences and individual liability. In contrast, the agency is quick to deem large firms as “legitimate” and apply a more soft-touch approach. AT&T’s massive scam is a reminder that we must focus on the practices of a business, rather than the size of a business.

Rigorous analysis yields better results. The Commission must do more to support our litigators and investigators with rigorous analysis of the many ways that companies profit from illegal conduct.

Commission economists typically develop estimates of consumer injury, but this is just one facet of the relief we can seek in court. Economic analysis of consumer injury is not a complete financial analysis, so we must be wary of overly relying on this narrow methodological approach. To arm our litigators effectively, we must conduct rigorous financial analysis that goes beyond the out-of-pocket losses that consumers experience. We also need to ensure we conduct a comprehensive review of a firm’s business model, which can allow us to assess what led to the wrongdoing in order to inform what injunctive relief we should pursue.

It will be critical for the Commission to closely scrutinize AT&T’s moves under order. If the company violates any aspect of this settlement, the agency should seek a contempt judgment in federal court and hold both the company and any appropriate individuals responsible for flouting the order. Given AT&T’s aggressive enforcement of arbitration clauses that ban consumers from taking the company to court, it is critical to be vigilant in our oversight of AT&T under this order.

Conclusion

If consumers don’t pay up when a company fails to live up to its promises, they are often pummeled with late fees, collection calls, and negative credit reporting. Yet when dominant companies don’t deliver on their end of the bargain, too often they can turn a profit, as their customers feel powerless to do anything about it. Cheating is not competing. Without effective government and private enforcement, we will not achieve all of the benefits that competitive markets can deliver.

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