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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!

Wall Street Hates CenturyLink’s Dividend Cut; Company Punished for Upgrade Spending

CenturyLink’s stock is being pummeled after the company announced a cut in divided payouts to shareholders earlier this year, preferring to keep the money in-house to reduce debt and increase spending on necessary broadband upgrades.

Last fall, CenturyLink stock was trading for over $23 a share. By January, rumors that CenturyLink was going to cut its dividend put the stock on a downward trajectory, falling to an all-time-low below $11 this month. Company officials argued that with tightening credit opportunities and increasing interest rates, the company needed to devote money normally paid back to shareholders towards paying down its $35.5 billion long-term debt and provide better service to its customers.

A half billion dollars of that money will also be spent on upgrading CenturyLink’s broadband service, particularly in rural areas where the company is receiving Connect America Fund (CAF) dollars from the federal government.

“Our plan for 2019 includes investing to improve the trajectory of the business increasing CapEx by roughly $500 million,” Jeff Storey, president and CEO of CenturyLink said on a January analyst conference call. “As I mentioned earlier those investments include expanding the fiber network, adding new buildings throughout our footprint, enhancing our enterprise product portfolio, continuing our investments in CAF-II, and transforming our customer and employee experience.”

Investors were not impressed with those plans, and CenturyLink’s share price cratered.

Independent phone companies have traditionally attracted investors with handsome dividend payouts, but the realities of their aging infrastructure and the inability to compete effectively with cable companies on lucrative broadband services have left companies like CenturyLink, Windstream, and Frontier Communications in a quandary. Shareholders do not perceive value investing in fiber optic network upgrades and punish companies that announce dramatic increases in network investments. Customers left on slow-speed ADSL networks are increasingly dissatisfied with their internet experience and seek alternative providers — usually the local cable company. As Frontier Communications has discovered, attempting to win back ex-customers has been exceedingly difficult, often only possible with lucrative promotional offers that undercut the cable company. But such offers attract customers with above-average price sensitivity, making it difficult to extract increased revenue from them going forward.

CenturyLink’s stock price has dropped to an all-time low over the last six months.

Investors are also increasingly concerned about the financial viability of investor-owned phone companies that are stuck between leveraging their old networks and facing down shareholders when upgrades become essential. AT&T and Verizon have wireless units responsible for much of the revenue earned by those two Baby Bells. Traditional phone companies have had less luck trying to sell ancillary support services like Frontier’s “Peace of Mind” technical support service, or bundling satellite TV service into packages.

CenturyLink’s Local Service Territory (Source: CenturyLink)

CenturyLink is increasingly depending on its enterprise and wholesale businesses to earn revenue. That fact has prompted some shareholders to ask why the company hasn’t spun off or sold off its traditional landline network and consumer businesses, which currently account for only 25% of its revenue. In May, CenturyLink seemed determined to placate those investors with an announcement it was exploring “strategic options” for its consumer business. Investors theorize that CenturyLink could “unlock value” from its legacy landline networks in such a sale or spinoff that would benefit shareholder value. It would also be much cheaper than investing in that network to upgrade it.

The chorus for a sale increased after Frontier Communications announced it was spinning off its landline territories in the Pacific Northwest to a company specializing in upgrading legacy networks to support better broadband. Frontier, mired in debt and facing a concerning due date for some of its bonds, made the sale to give a boost to its balance sheet. Frontier had also been facing increasing scrutiny about a potential Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing. Windstream declared bankruptcy earlier this year, reminding investors that a trip to bankruptcy court could quickly wipe out all shareholder value.

MoffettNathanson, a Wall Street analyst firm that specializes in telecommunications, finds little to like about CenturyLink shedding its own landline operations. Frontier’s sale benefited from the fact a significant part of its Pacific Northwest territory was built from an acquisition from Verizon, which had already installed its FiOS fiber to the home network in parts of Washington and Oregon. About 30% of the territory Frontier is selling is fiber-enabled. In comparison, CenturyLink has installed fiber to the home service in only about 10% of its territory, dramatically reducing any potential sale price. Much of CenturyLink’s core fiber network powers its enterprise and wholesale operations — businesses CenturyLink would likely keep for itself.

MoffettNathanson also sees little value from the proposition a buyer could leverage CenturyLink’s network to provide backhaul fiber capacity for future 5G services, because CenturyLink provides service mostly in smaller communities likely to be bypassed by 5G, at least for the near term.

Wall Street’s idea of a win-win strategy for CenturyLink is to keep its consumer business and expand its broadband service footprint and capability, if the federal government offers to cover much of the cost through more rounds of CAF subsidies. Taxpayers would subsidize broadband expansion while CenturyLink and shareholders share all the profits.

CenturyLink Considering Dumping Its Consumer Landline/Broadband Services

CenturyLink is considering getting out of the consumer landline and broadband business and instead focusing on its profitable corporate-targeted enterprise and wholesale businesses.

CenturyLink CEO Jeff Storey told investors on a quarterly conference call that the phone company had hired advisors that will conduct a strategic review of all CenturyLink products and services targeting the consumer market and is “very open” to the possibility to selling or spinning off its residential business, assuming it can find an interested buyer.

“Let me be clear, we’re early in what I expect to be a lengthy and complex process,” Storey told investors, noting the company’s first priority is to take care of its shareholders. “During our review, we will not modify our normal operations or our investment patterns. I can’t predict the outcome or the timing of this work or if any transactions will come from it at all. Our focus, though, is value maximization for shareholders. If there are better paths to create more value with these assets, we will pursue them.”

CenturyLink’s landline network is similar to those of other independent telephone companies. There are significant markets where extensive upgrades have introduced fiber broadband service and high-speed DSL, but most of CenturyLink’s network remains reliant on copper wire infrastructure that is not capable of supplying high speed internet to customers.

Like most large independent telephone companies, the majority of CenturyLink’s residential customers can only purchase slow speed DSL service offering less than 20 Mbps. A growing number of customers have canceled service after running out of patience waiting for upgrades. CenturyLink executives told investors last week the company is abandoning investments in bonded or vectored DSL upgrades, claiming anything other than fiber optics is not “competitive infrastructure.”

CenturyLink also admitted it is losing customers after deciding to shelve its unprofitable, competing Prism TV product. The only growth on the consumer side of CenturyLink is coming from significant broadband upgrades.

“In the first quarter, we saw a net loss of 6,000 total broadband subscribers. This quarter’s total was made up of declines of 83,000 in speeds below 20 Mbps and growth of 77,000 in speeds of 20 Mbps and above,” reported CenturyLink chief financial officer Neel Dev. “Within those gains, we added 47,000 in speeds of 100 Mbps and above. Voice revenue declined 12% this quarter. Going forward, we expect similar declines in voice revenue. As a reminder, the decline in other revenue was driven by our decision to de-emphasize our linear video product.”

Dev reported that 55% of CenturyLink’s customers have access to speeds of 20 Mbps or less, and the company has ceased spending marketing dollars advertising slow speed DSL. Instead, it “microtargets” service areas where customers can sign up for service faster than 20 Mbps.

Observers note CenturyLink’s interest in its landline business has been waning for some time. The change in attitude can be traced back to CenturyLink’s merger with Level 3, a very profitable provider of connectivity to the enterprise and wholesale markets. CenturyLink’s commercial services are consistently earning most of the revenue the company reports to shareholders every quarter, with residential services declining in importance.

A sale of CenturyLink’s local landline and consumer-focused internet businesses could be hampered because of the likely lack of buyers. Frontier Communications had been an aggressive player in acquiring landline networks cast off by Verizon and AT&T, but that company is now in financial trouble and faces major debt issues. It would be an unlikely bidder. Windstream is still in bankruptcy reorganization and an acquisition is out of the question. Smaller independent phone companies like Consolidated Communications (owner of former FairPoint Communications), also likely lack financing to achieve such a deal, especially as interest rates continue to rise. CenturyLink also has the option of spinning off its residential business into a new corporate entity, but would likely result in a financially hobbled enterprise that may have trouble attracting capital to continue funding further expansion.

North Carolina’s Goal to be the First Giga State is Improbable With Current State Legislature

Solving America’s rural broadband crisis will take a lot more than demonstration projects, token grants, and press releases.

Since 2008, Stop the Cap! has witnessed media coverage that breathlessly promises rural broadband is right around the corner, evidenced by a new state or federal grant to build what later turns out to be a middle mile or institutional fiber optic network that is strictly off-limits to homes and businesses. Politicians who participate in these press events tend to favor publicity over performance, often misleading reporters and constituents about just how significant a particular project will be towards resolving a community’s broadband challenges. Much of the time, these projects turn out to serve a very limited number of people or only fund part of a broadband initiative.

Officials last week said they are hoping to make North Carolina “the first ‘giga-state,’ with broadband access for all its residents.” But to realistically achieve that goal, nothing short of an expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars will be required to realistically achieve that goal statewide.

A decade ago, rural broadband progressed in North Carolina, as communities transitioned away from traditional tobacco and textile businesses to the information and technology economy. To assure a foundation for that economic shift, several communities identified their local substandard (or lacking) broadband as a major problem. The state’s phone and cable companies at the time — notably Time Warner Cable, AT&T, and CenturyLink, often proved to be obstacles by refusing to upgrade networks in the state’s smaller communities. Some cities decided to stop relying on what the broadband companies were willing to offer and chose to construct their own modern, publicly owned broadband network alternatives, open to residents and businesses. A handful of cities in North Carolina went a different direction and acquired a dilapidated and bankrupt cable system and invested in upgrades, hoping cable broadband improvements would help protect their communities’ competitiveness to attract digital economy jobs.

That progress largely stalled after Republicans took control of the state legislature in 2011 and passed a draconian municipal broadband law that effectively banned public broadband expansion. Most of those backing the measure took lucrative campaign contributions from the state’s dominant phone and cable companies. One, Sen. Marilyn Avila, worked so closely with Time Warner Cable’s lobbyists, the resulting bill was effectively drafted by the state’s largest cable company. For that effort, she was later wined and dined by cable lobbyists at a celebration dinner in Asheville.

To be fair, some North Carolina cities are experiencing a broadband renaissance. Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Cary, Durham, Winston-Salem, and Chapel Hill will have a choice of providers for gigabit service. Google has installed fiber in some of these cities while AT&T and Charter lay down more fiber optics and introduce upgrades to support gigabit speeds.

Things are considerably worse outside of large cities.

In North Carolina, 585,000 people live in areas where their wired connections cannot reach the FCC’s speed definition of broadband — 25 Mbps, and another 145,000 live without any notion of broadband at all.

Bringing all of North Carolina up to at least the nation’s minimum standard for broadband will not be cheap, and politicians and public policy groups must be realistic about the real cost to once and for all resolve North Carolina’s rural broadband challenges. Where the money comes from is a question that will be left to state and local officials and their constituents. Some advocate only tax credit-inspired private funding, others support a public-private partnership to share costs, while still others believe public money should be only spent on publicly owned, locally developed broadband networks. Regardless of which model is proposed, without a specific and realistic budget proposal to move forward, the public will likely be disappointed with the results.

The Facts of Broadband Life

There is a reason rural areas are underserved or unserved. America’s broadband providers are primarily for-profit, investor-owned companies. They are not public servants and they respond first to the interests of their shareholders. Customers might come in second. When a publicly owned utility or co-op is created, in most cases it is the result of years of frustration trying to get a commercial provider to serve a rural or high cost area. Public projects are usually designed to serve almost everyone, even though it will likely take years for construction costs to be recovered. Investor-owned companies are not nearly as patient, and usually demand a Return On Investment formula that offers a much shorter window to recover costs. For broadband, adequately populated areas that can be reached affordably and attract enough new customers to recover the initial investment will get service, while those areas that cannot are left behind. The two populations most likely to fail the ROI test are the urban poor that may not be able to afford to subscribe and rural residents a company claims it cannot afford to serve. Many early cable TV franchise agreements insisted on ROI formulas that allowed companies only to skip areas with inadequate population density, not inadequate income, which explains why cable service is available in even the poorest city neighborhoods, while a wealthy resident in a rural area goes unserved.

Today, most cable and phone companies install fiber optic infrastructure most commonly in new housing developments or previously unwired business parks, while allowing existing copper wire infrastructure already in place elsewhere to remain in service. Some companies, including AT&T and Verizon, have made an effort in some areas to replace copper infrastructure with fiber optics, but in most cases, their rural service areas remain served by copper wiring installed decades ago. As a result, most rural residents end up with DSL internet from the phone company, often at speeds of 5 Mbps or less, or no internet service at all. Neither of these phone companies, much less independent telcos like CenturyLink and Frontier, have shown much interest in scrapping copper wiring for fiber optics in rural service areas. There is simply no economic case that shareholders will accept for costly upgrades that will deliver little, if any, short-term benefits to a company’s bottom line. That reality has led some communities to try incentivizing commercial providers to make an investment anyway, usually with a package of tax breaks and cost sharing. But many communities have achieved better results even faster by launching their own fiber broadband services that the public can access.

Some states with large rural areas have recognized that solving the rural broadband problem will be costly — almost always more costly than first thought. Such projects often take longer than one hoped, and will require some form of taxpayer matching funds, municipal bonds, public buy-in, or a miraculous sudden investment from a generous cable or phone company. In states with municipal broadband bans, like North Carolina, politicians who support such restrictions believe the cable and phone companies will spontaneously solve the rural internet problem on their own. Such beliefs have stalled rural broadband improvements in many of the states ensnared by such laws, usually tailored to protect a duopoly of the same phone and cable companies that have historically refused to offer adequate broadband service to their rural customers.

Challenges for North Carolina

(Courtesy: North Carolina League of Municipalities – Click image for more information)

North Carolina is a growing state, so a small part of the rural broadband problem may work itself out as population densities increase to a level that crosses that critical ROI threshold. But most rural communities will be waiting years for that to happen. Intransigent phone and cable companies are unlikely to respond positively to local officials seeking better service if it requires a substantial investment. As industry lobbyists will tell you, it is not the job of government to dictate the services of privately owned companies. The Republican majority in North Carolina’s legislature underlines that principle regularly in the form of legislation that reduces regulation and oversight. Many, but not all of those Republicans have also taken a strong strand against the idea of municipalities stepping up to resolve their local broadband challenges by working around problematic cable and phone companies. The ideology that government should never be in the business of competing against private businesses usually takes precedence.

Almost a decade ago, the cable and phone companies of North Carolina made three failed attempts to enshrine this principle in a new statewide law that would limit municipal broadband encroachment to such an extent it made future projects unviable. They succeeded in passing a law on their fourth attempt in 2011, the same year Republicans took control in the state legislature.

Today, Republicans still control the legislature with a Democratic governor providing some checks and balances. Why is this important? Because for North Carolina to achieve its goal, it will realistically need a combination of bipartisan support for rural broadband funding and an end to the municipal broadband ban.

Where is the money?

Although North Carolina wants to be America’s first “gigabit” state, New York is the first to at least claim full broadband coverage across the entire state. That did not and could not happen without a multi-year spending program. Recently, North Carolina’s Department of Information Technology launched a $10 million GREAT Grant program to provide last-mile connectivity to the most economically distressed counties in the state. While a noble effort, and one no doubt limited by the availability of funds to spend on broadband expansion, it is a drop in a bucket of water thrown into a barely filled pool.

To put this problem in better context, New York’s goal of full broadband coverage (which in our view remains incomplete) required not only $500 million acquired from settlement proceeds won by the state after suing Wall Street banks for causing the Great Recession, but another $170 million in federal broadband expansion funds that were expected to be forfeited because Verizon — the state’s largest phone company — was not interested in the money or upgrading their DSL service upstate.

Big Money: New York’s rural broadband funding initiative spent hundreds of millions to attack the rural broadband problem. Gov. Andrew Cuomo outlines funding for just one of several rounds of broadband funding.

Last year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo detailed success for his Broadband for All program by pointing out the state spent $670 million to upgrade or introduce broadband service to 2.42 million locations in rural New York, giving the state 99.9% coverage. That amounts to an average grant of $277 per household or business. In turn, award recipients — largely incumbent phone and cable companies, had to commit to matching private investments. For that state money, the provider had to typically offer at least 100 Mbps service, except in the most rural parts of the state, where a lower speed was acceptable.

North Carolina has 585,000 underserved or unserved locations. Just by using New York’s average $277 grant, North Carolina will have to spend approximately $202 million with similar matching funds from private companies to reach those locations. In fact, it is assuredly more than that because North Carolina’s goal is gigabit speed, not 100 Mbps. Also, New York declared ‘mission accomplished’ while stranding tens of thousands of expensive or difficult to reach residents with subsidized satellite internet access. That offers nothing close to gigabit speed. A more realistic figure for North Carolina in 2019 could be as high as $250-300 million in taxpayer dollars — combined with similar private matching funds to convince AT&T, Charter, CenturyLink and others that the time is right to expand into more rural areas. But as New York discovered, there will be areas in the state no company will bid to serve because the money provided is inadequate.

If the thought of handing over tax dollars to big phone and cable companies bothers you, the alternative is helping communities start and run their own networks in the public interest. Except private providers routinely retaliate with well-funded campaigns of fear, uncertainty and doubt over those projects, and they become political footballs to everyone except their customers, who generally appreciate the service and local accountability.

If North Carolina’s state government relies on a series of $10 million appropriations for grants, it will likely take at least 20 years to wire the state. Stop the Cap! agrees with the goals North Carolina has set to deliver ubiquitous, gigabit-fast broadband. But those goals will be difficult to reach in the present political climate. Republicans in the state legislature approved reductions in the corporate income tax rate to 2.5 percent, down from 3 percent last year, and the personal income tax rate drops to 5.25 percent from 5.499 percent. North Carolina’s latest budget sets aside $13.8 billion for education, $3.8 billion for Medicaid, $3 billion in new debt for road maintenance, and $31 million in grants to attract the film industry to shoot their projects in the state.

It is likely any appropriation significant enough to actually deliver on the commitment to provide total broadband coverage will have to be spread out over several years, unless another funding mechanism can be identified. That assumes the Republicans in the state legislature will be receptive to the idea, which remains an open question.

Questions Grow Over CenturyLink’s Massive 2-Day December Outage

Phillip Dampier January 22, 2019 CenturyLink, Consumer News, Public Policy & Gov't, Video 1 Comment

What do an emergency operations center in Cochise County, Ariz., Colorado hospitals, the Idaho Bureau of Corrections, and many 911 call centers across Massachusetts have in common? They were all brought down by a two-day nationwide CenturyLink outage from Dec. 27-28 that also resulted in internet outages for tens of thousands of CenturyLink’s residential customers. The cause? CenturyLink blamed a single, faulty third-party network management card in Denver for disrupting services for CenturyLink and other phone companies, notably Verizon, from Alaska to Florida.

Hours after outage began, two days after Christmas, CenturyLink issued a general statement:

“CenturyLink experienced a network event on one of our six transport networks beginning on December 27 that impacted voice, IP, and transport services for some of our customers. The event also impacted CenturyLink’s visibility into our network management system, impairing our ability to troubleshoot and prolonging the duration of the outage.”

That “network event” caused serious disruptions to critical services in 37 states, including 911, according to Brian Kyes, president of the Massachusetts Major City Chiefs of Police Association.

“This is affecting 911 (wireline & wireless) delivery to most of Massachusetts,” Kyes said in a statement during the outage to the Boston Herald. “We have heard from MEMA that this issue may also affect some landlines but I have not heard of any specific situations or communities that have been impacted. We are advising all police and fire chiefs to test their local 911 systems and notify their residents of potential issues by reverse 911, social media or any other means that they have at their disposal. The interruption in service may depend on a particular phone carrier and the information that we have is that it may be intermittent.”

CenturyLink outages on Dec. 27, 2018. (Image: Downdetector.com)

The disruptions affected much of Massachusetts — a state served primarily by Verizon Communications, because CenturyLink is a major commercial services vendor inside and outside of its local landline service areas and supplies some connectivity services to Verizon, mostly for wireless customers.

ATM networks also went down in certain parts of the country. CenturyLink is one of many vendors providing data connectivity between the cashpoint machines and several banking institutions.

Also impacted, the Idaho Department of Corrections, including inmate phone systems, and the Idaho Department of Education, which lost the ability to make or receive calls.

Consumers also noticed their internet connections were often down or sporadic in some locations, primarily because CenturyLink’s backbone network became saturated with rogue packets.

The Denver Post presented a more detailed technical explanation about the outage:

CenturyLink said the [defective] card was propagating “invalid frame packets” that were sent out over its secondary network, which controlled the flow of data traffic.

“Once on the secondary communication channel, the invalid frame packets multiplied, forming loops and replicating high volumes of traffic across the network, which congested controller card CPUs (central processing unit) network-wide, causing functionality issues and rendering many nodes unreachable,” the company said in a statement.

Once the syndrome gets going, it can be difficult to trace back to its original source and to stop, a big reason networks are designed to isolate failures early and contain them.

“We have learned through experience about these different types of failure modes. We build our systems to try and localize those failures,” said Craig Partridge, chair of the computer science department at Colorado State University in Fort Collins and a member of the Internet Hall of Fame. “I would hope that what is going on is that CenturyLink is trying to understand why a relatively well-known failure mode has bit them.”

The Federal Communications Commission also expects answers to some questions, opening another investigation of the phone company. In 2015, CenturyLink agreed to pay a $16 million settlement to the federal agency after a seven-state outage in April 2014.

Pai

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency would once again take a look at CenturyLink, focusing on disruptions to emergency services.

“When an emergency strikes, it’s critical that Americans are able to use 911 to reach those who can help,” Pai said in a statement. “This inquiry will include an examination of the effect that CenturyLink’s outage appears to have had on other providers’ 911 services.”

A retired manager at Qwest, a former Baby Bell now owned by CenturyLink, strongly criticized CenturyLink’s lack of communications with customers and an apparent lack of network redundancy.

“For a company in the communication business, they sure failed on this,” said Albuquerque resident Sam Martin. “I participated on the Qwest Disaster Recovery teams, and I do not recall ever having the network down for this kind of time and certainly never the 911 network. The 911 network should never have been down. The lack of this network can contribute to delays in rescue and fire saving lives.”

Martin is dubious about CenturyLink’s explanation for the network outage, suggesting a defective network card may be only a part of the problem.

“The explanations given so far are not valid,” Martin said. “The public may not be aware of it, but the communication network has redundancy and for essential services like inter-office trunking and 911 calls, there are duplicate fiber optic feeds – “rings” that duplicate the main circuit in another path – and switching equipment to these locations so that they may be switched electronically and automatically upon failure to a back-up network ring. When these systems are operating properly, the customer is unaware a failure occurred. If the automatic switching does not take place, employees involved with disaster recovery can intervene and manually switch the affected network to another fiber ring or electronic hub and service is restored until the actual damage is fixed.”

None of those things appeared to happen in this case, and the outage persisted for 48 hours before all services were restored.

“CenturyLink has to have a disaster recovery plan with redundancies in place for electrical, inbound and outbound local and toll-free carriers, as well as network and hardware component redundancies. CenturyLink should be able to switch between multiple fiber optic rings or central offices in case entire networks of phones go down. They would then locate and repair, or replace, defective telecommunication components without the customer ever knowing. The fact that this did not happen is discouraging and scary for the consumer. The fact that it happened nationwide is even more surprising and disturbing. Hopefully the truth will come out soon.”

A critical editorial in the Albuquerque Journal added:

We need answers from CenturyLink beyond the cryptic “a network element” caused the outage. We need to know how many CenturyLink and Verizon customers were affected. And we need to know what they – and other internet and phone providers – are doing to prevent similar outages or worse from happening in the future. Because if the outage showed nothing else, it’s that like an old-time string of Christmas lights, we are living in an interconnected world.

And when one light goes out, they can all go out.

KTVB in Boise, Idaho reported on CenturyLink’s massive outage on Dec. 27-28 and how it impacted local businesses and government services. (3:09)

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