During these unprecedented times, keeping Americans connected is a top priority for the wireless industry. As such, more than 500 telecommunications companies and organizations have signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge developed by the Federal Communications Commission. Chairman Ajit Pai called upon all broadband and telephone service providers to promote connectivity for Americans impacted by the pandemic. WIA is strongly supportive of Chairman Pai’s efforts and proud that many of our members have signed the pledge.
The text of the pledge reads:
“Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] 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 to any American who needs them.”
Dozens of wireless carriers and telecommunications companies have signed the pledge, including WIA members AT&T, Google Fiber, T-Mobile, Uniti Fiber, Verizon and ZenFi Networks.
“As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected. Broadband will enable them to communicate with their loved ones and doctors, telework, ensure their children can engage in remote learning, and — importantly — take part in the ‘social distancing’ that will be so critical to limiting the spread of this novel coronavirus,” said Chairman Pai. “That’s why I’m asking all broadband and telephone service providers to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. I don’t want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity.
“I applaud those companies that have already taken the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. They are stepping up to the plate and taking critical steps that will make it easier for Americans to stay connected during this pandemic and maintain much-needed social distancing. I urge other companies to join them. This may be a difficult time for our nation, but if we all work together, I am confident that we can rise to the challenge.”
The nation’s wireless carriers provided reassurance about the stability and capacity of wireless networks as disruptions caused by COVID-19 signal a potential shift in traffic while students shift to distance-learning initiatives and many employees transition to work-from-home arrangements.
Service providers also rolled out initiatives to help those financially impacted by disruptions related to COVID-19, including waiving fees and suspending service terminations.
Verizon announced March 13 that it will waive late fees for residential and small–business customers impact by COVID-19. In addition, the company will not terminate service to any residential or small–business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to coronavirus-related disruptions. The company has tripled its monthly data allowance for its Verizon Innovative Learning schools and committed $10 million to nonprofits directed at supporting students and first–responder healthcare workers.
As of March 13, the company said it had not seen measurable increases in data usage on any of its networks and reassured that its networks are engineered to manage anticipated increases in traffic. The company said it is monitoring network usage in the most impacted areas and is working to prioritize network demand to assist hospitals, first responders and government agencies as needed. Verizon forged a partnership with companies associated with DISH Network to borrow spectrum for 60 days in order to address any COVID-19-related traffic surges. The deal calls for Northstar Wireless LLC and SNR Wireless LicenseCo to temporarily loan their AWS-3 spectrum licenses to Verizon at no cost “in order to provide additional capacity to Verizon customers across the country,” according to the FCC, which approved the deal.
“Verizon operates its networks every day as though it’s a snow day — events when millions of Americans work from home while family members go online to watch videos, play games and talk and text to their friends and families,” said Kyle Malady, Verizon’s chief technology officer. “Delivering reliable networks is what we do. While this is an unprecedented situation, we know things are changing, and we are ready to adjust network resources as we better understand any shifts in demand.
“We continually evaluate peak data usage times and build our networks to stay ahead of that demand,” said Malady. “While we may see the hours where peak data usage shifts from evening to daytime, our network is built to manage evolving demands. While it is not clear yet how having millions of additional people working from home will impact usage patterns, we are ready to address changes in demand, if needed.”
Verizon developed a document detailing the various ways it is serving customers during the COVID-19 crisis, including information on its fiber and wireless networks, changes to fees and plans, prioritizing first responder communications, and donating to relief efforts. See more here: Verizon – Serving Our Customers During Covid-19
T-Mobile announced it has access to 600 megahertz of additional spectrum for the next 60 days to expand network capacity for customers across the country. The FCC approved the spectrum arrangement, which draws on spectrum held by other companies including DISH Network, to allow T-Mobile to meet increased traffic demands and to support telehealth, distance learning, telework and first responder communications. The company also expanded roaming access for Sprint customers to use its network.
The service provider said its network is currently fully operational and functioning at 100 percent reliability and reassured that it will continue to operate thanks to a 24/7 Network Operations Center and a technician workforce capable of responding to issues.
“We recognize that T-Mobile customers are relying on our network to ensure they have critical connections with family, loved ones and service providers. Keeping our customers connected and our employees safe and healthy are our highest priorities,” T-Mobile said in a statement March 14.
T-Mobile is temporarily providing all T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers that currently subscribe to a data plan unlimited smartphone data for 60 days and an additional 20 GB of mobile hotspot/tethering services for 60 days. T-Mobile is also increasing the data allowance for free to schools and students using its EmpowerED digital learning programs to ensure each participant has access to at least 20 GB of data per month for 60 days. Long-distance calling to certain countries impacted by the virus will be free temporarily as well.
T-Mobile customers can dial 611 on their wireless device or interact with the company via their app or social media accounts.
AT&T announced it 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 for 60 days. Late payment fees will be waived, and public Wi-Fi hotspots are open for any American who needs them, the company said March 14.
AT&T also announced discounts and unlimited service offerings for home internet, fixed wireless internet, business plans, and conferencing packages for those transitioning to work from home. In addition, 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 with school closures and to support virtual learning.
Like Verizon and T-Mobile, AT&T also has been granted access to spectrum held by DISH Network at no cost for 60 days.
Wireless customers can dial 611 from their AT&T device for assistance, and other customers can call 800-288-2020. Or, due to a high volume of calls, AT&T asks customers to reach out through att.com or the myAT&T app for support and resources.
AT&T developed a handout to provide information on its COVID-19 efforts, including initiatives around unlimited home Internet, remote work and learning, and communications for first responders, health care workers and essential employees: COVID-19 Keep Americans Connected Handout_032620
As noted above, DISH Network is loaning spectrum to the nation’s wireless carriers at no cost to help meet any spikes in traffic due to the virus and changing work, school and life habits of subscribers. The company provided 20 megahertz of AWS-4 (Band 66) and all of its 700 MHz spectrum to AT&T this week after last week lending its complete 600 MHz portfolio of spectrum to T-Mobile. With these two agreements, DISH said it has activated most of its spectrum portfolio to help with COVID-19 efforts.
“DISH is proud to support Americans’ personal and professional connectivity needs during this challenging time,” said Jeff Blum, DISH SVP of public policy and government affairs. “As we take this step, we’d like to thank the FCC for their leadership on the technological needs arising as a result of the virus, including the increased need for broadband access to help consumers respond to the impact of COVID-19 on daily life.”
American Tower is committed to ensuring our wireless infrastructure – nearly 180,000 towers throughout the world – supports the wireless voice and broadband networks that keep us connected. As we work together to respond to the global health crisis, American Tower continues to prioritize the health and safety of our tenants, vendors, employees and communities. We are working to make certain our tenants can safely install and upgrade their wireless networks while adhering to health and safety protocols so that our essential employees in the field can perform work. In addition, we are equipping employees with everything they need to work effectively from home. American Tower is working with local, national and global organizations to support COVID-19 response efforts, including the American Red Cross, UNICEF, Project Hope, Partners in Health Organization, Boston Resiliency Fund, the Greater Boston Food Bank, PM CARES Fund (India) and many more.
How is your company responding to COVID-19? Email Kristen.Beckman@WIA.org to continue the conversation.