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Technology FCC's 'Keep Americans Connected Pledge' is over. Now what?

04:17  01 july  2020
04:17  01 july  2020 Source:   cnet.com

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recognized early on in the pandemic that the economic strain resulting from historic job loss could leave millions of Americans without What' s next? In a letter to Congress on June 19, Pai expressed concern for consumers still unable to pay their bills after the Keep Americans

Keep America Connected Pledge is ending. Tens of millions of Americans are being kept home from work because of the pandemic. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai sent a letter to Congress last week asking them to come up with legislation that would help keep consumers and small businesses connected

The coronavirus crisis in the US rages on, but many broadband and wireless customers who are struggling to pay their bills may no longer benefit from a promise service providers made to the Federal Communications Commission to keep them connected and to waive late fees.

a person sitting on a bench using a laptop: The FCC's 'Keep Americans Connected Pledge' officially ends today. Robert Alexander/Getty Images © Provided by CNET The FCC's 'Keep Americans Connected Pledge' officially ends today. Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The commitments from more than 750 broadband and wireless companies to not cut off service and to waive late fees as part of the FCC's Keep Americans Connected Pledge officially ends today June 30.

While many of the nation's largest service providers say they will work on an individual basis with customers who are unable to pay their bills due to a loss of a job during the COVID-19 crisis, they will no longer be abiding by the pledge.

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Internet providers pledge to “ Keep Americans Connected ” during the COVID-19 crisis. In response to the coronavirus outbreak, which has put over 30 million Americans out of work, FCC officials launched the “ Keep Americans Connected Pledge ” in mid-March.

The Federal Communications Commission ( FCC ) asked telecommunication providers to keep Americans connected during this time of coronavirus/COVID-19. --

This comes at a time when COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the coronavirus, continues to rapidly spread across the country. Several states in the US are seeing surges in COVID-19 cases, with the country topping 40,000 new daily cases in recent days, according to Johns Hopkins University, which has been tracking the spread of the virus. Some states, including Texas and Florida, have paused or rolled back reopening plans as the number of new cases rises.

Meanwhile millions of Americans have lost their jobs as a result of businesses closing due to the pandemic. In early June, it was reported that nearly 43 million people had filed for unemployment in the US during April and May. That equates to roughly one in four American workers. A survey from the Economic Policy Institute in April estimated that figure is lower than the true number of Americans out of work: Millions more people could have filed if unemployment processes were easier.

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Separately from the FCC ’ s pledge , Comcast has announced it will provide free broadband for low-income families and Charter said it will offer free broadband to families with students for the next 60 days. Consumer-advocacy group Free Press welcomed the pledge by telecom providers to suspend

The FCC pushed carriers to sign its Keep Americans Connected Pledge . Carriers would promise that no one would get their internet or telephone service cut off due to an inability to pay. Now , Gizmodo reports the FCC says over 2,000 Americans have filed complaints related to the novel

a man sitting in a chair talking on a cell phone: The FCC's 'Keep Americans Connected Pledge' officially ends today.  © Robert Alexander/Getty Images

The FCC's 'Keep Americans Connected Pledge' officially ends today.

The Pledge

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai recognized early on in the pandemic that the economic strain resulting from historic job loss could leave millions of Americans without connection to the internet at a critical time when schools were going shutting down and forcing students to learn online and employers were requiring workers to remotely.

In March, Pai asked US wireless carriers and internet service providers to pledge to waive late fees and disconnections amid the coronavirus pandemic for 60-days. In April, he asked all who had committed to the pledge to extend it until June 30.

In addition to promising not to cut off service to residential and small business customers who couldn't pay their bills, these carriers also promised to waive late fees due to the coronavirus pandemic and to open their Wi-Fi hotspots for free so anyone can use them.

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the federal agency has announced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge . For some companies like Comcast and AT&T, the pledge is something they'll do in addition to While it' s not part of the pledge , the FCC says Chairman Pai pushed the companies he spoke to over the phone to relax their

In alignment with the FCC ' s request to all Internet Service Providers, Viasat pledges for the next 60 days to: not terminate service to any residential Viasat will work with its residential and small business customers to keep them connected , lessening potential health and economic impacts associated

More than 750 service providers signed on to the voluntary pledge. It's important to note that none of the companies were compelled to comply with any part of the pledge. And there have been complaints from some consumers, who say carriers haven't lived up to the pledge. Pai was asked about this on a May teleconference call with the House Energy & Commerce Committee.  At that time, he acknowledged that the agency had received roughly 500 complaints about the program.

"It's my understanding that most of the complaints that we have received about the pledge have been resolved to ensure that the consumer remains connected during the pandemic," Pai said.

The FCC declined CNET's request for further comment further on the complaints.

What's next?

In a letter to Congress on June 19, Pai expressed concern for consumers still unable to pay their bills after the Keep Americans Connected Pledge ends. He said he asked companies not to disconnect consumers and small businesses who are behind on their bills in July, due to the coronavirus pandemic. And he added he encouraged these companies to allow customers to extend payment plans and defer payment arrangements. He also asked providers to maintain and expand their plans for low-income families, and to keep remote learning initiatives for students.

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We are committed to supporting our customers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic and are proud to have signed the FCC ’ s Keep Americans Connected Pledge . As of today, we have extended the following support through June 30: Waiving late fees that any residential or small business customers

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 About Viasat Viasat is a global communications company that believes everyone and everything in the world can be connected .

Several carriers and broadband providers have complied with his requests.

Comcast said it will extend its 60 days of free internet for low income households through the Internet Essentials program until the end of the year. It's also keeping public Xfinity WiFi hotspots open through the end of the year. The company has extended its offer of a $150 Visa card payment for college students through September 30. The company also said that customers who haven't been able to pay their bills won't be cut off on July 1. And it plans to work with customers individually "to find the best payment options for them and keep them connected," a spokesman said in an email.

Charter described how it will help customers in a policy blog. It plans to offer repayment assistance to "work with our customers to find a plan that matches their needs and budget, including for qualified households, our affordable low-income broadband service Spectrum Internet Assist." The company said it will also forgive a portion of delinquent outstanding balances for customers who had "requested suspension of collections activities due to COVID-related financial impacts." It also plans to continue its Spectrum Internet Assist program for low income families and senior citizens. It also will offer new small business customers a month of free service .

"Companies will continue to offer expanded low-income support programs and are forging new partnerships with schools and other groups affected by the COVID-19 crisis," said Brian Dietz, a spokesman for NCTA, the cable industry's lobbying group. "So, while the government pledge may be sunsetting, our relationship and commitment to our customers will not."

Verizon said that customers already signed up for the Pledge will automatically be enrolled in the company's "Stay Connected" repayment program to provide options to stay connected.

"We'll continue to work with customers to provide the best financial options available now and moving forward," a spokesman for the company said.

AT&T said it will waive data overage fees for home-internet service through September 30.

But this waiver does not apply to data caps on DSL and fixed wireless services.

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