The U.S. telecoms regulator has announced that major internet providers - including AT&T and Verizon - agreed not to terminate service for subscribers for the next 60 days if they are unable to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said after calls with more than 50 companies that they also agreed to waive any late fees residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic.
They also agreed to open Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone who needs them.
Millions of people are expected to work and study from home as employers urge people to stay away from workplaces and schools to reduce the potential to spread the coronavirus.
The FCC’s Chairman said in a statement, “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”.
Many companies also agreed to waive data limits for the next 60 days.
For customers with international long distance plans, Sprint will provide free international calling rates from the United States to countries with large coronavirus outbreaks.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, praised the companies adopting the pledge, but said the FCC should do more.
She called on the commission to “provide hotspots for loan for students whose school doors have closed” and “work with healthcare providers to ensure connectivity for telehealth services are available for hospitals, doctors, and nurses treating coronavirus patients and those who are quarantined.”
Internet firms expressed confidence that U.S. networks can withstand the predicted jump in traffic. So far, Verizon said it “has not seen any measurable increase in data usage.”