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Pledge to Stay Together

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 You’re reading the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) broadband stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of March 16-20, 2020

Kevin Taglang
Taglang

To be honest, as of March 12, a lifetime ago now, I planned to take today off, celebrate a friend’s birthday, watch too much college basketball, drink too much beer, and eat too many chicken wings. The “too much” we’re dealing with now is on an epically greater scale that grows by the hour. I was raised to believe that we are stronger together, so today, I thought I’d take a moment to highlight some efforts to keep us all connected in what is a very scary time. 

Keep Americans Connected Pledge

On March 13, Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai announced that a number of broadband and telephone service providers had volunteered to take what he is calling the the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. As of this writing, 390 companies have taken the pledge. (Yes, I’m including the full list of companies below so you can find if your provider has made the committment.) Taking the pledge, a company commits that until May 12, 2020 it will:

  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.

What Else Are ISPs Doing?

On March 18, Chairman Pai highlighted what a number of companies are doing on top of the pledge.

ALLO Communications is offering 50 Mbps broadband service for free for 60 days to households without Internet service, reducing fees for 60 days for existing and new broadband customers in need, and waiving service modification fees for businesses and residences.

Altice USA (Optimum and Suddenlink) is offering 30 Mbps broadband service for free for 60 days to households that have K-12 and/or college students who may be displaced by school closures and do not currently have home broadband.

AT&T is providing all consumer home internet wireline customers, as well as fixed wireless internet customers, with unlimited internet data, and is funding an eLearning coalition to provide free resources to educators. In addition this week AT&T announced that its Access program is temporarily: 1) offering two months of free serviceto new Access customers who order by April 30, 2020. $5/mo or $10/mo thereafter, depending on the speed the customer chooses; 2) expanding eligibility based on incomeand to households participating in National School Lunch Program/Head Start; and 3) waiving all data overage fees.

BEK Communications is doubling internet speeds for all customers at no additional charge, offering broadband service for free for four months to new customers with telehealth, education, and work-from-home needs.

C Spire is offering free wireless data to K-12 students for educational purposes.

CableONE/Sparklight is offering unlimited data on all broadband services for 30 days.

CenturyLink is suspending data usage limits.

Charter (Spectrum) is offering up to 100 Mbps broadband service for free for 60 days to new households with K-12 and/or college students and waiving installation fees for such households.

Comcast (Xfinity) is increasing broadband speeds for Internet Essentials (low-income) customers from 15 Mbps to 25 Mbps, offering broadband service for free for 60 days to new Internet Essentials customers, and offering all customers unlimited data for 60 days.

Cox is increasing broadband speeds for Connect2Compete (low-income) and certain other customers up to 50 Mbps temporarily, offering broadband service for free for 30 days to new Connect2Compete customers and fast-tracking the qualification process, and offering remote desktop support for free to Connect2Compete and certain other customers.

GeoLinks is increasing broadband speeds for customers who are working remotely.

Hotwire Communications is offering free 100 Mbps broadband for two months to new customers that are students or in low-income households.

Mediacom is increasing broadband speeds for Connect2Compete (low-income) customers from 10 Mbps to 25 Mbps, offering broadband service for free for 60 days to new Connect2Compete customers; reducing prices for 60 Mbps broadband service for new customers, and suspending data usage limits through May 15.

Nelson Cable is increasing broadband speeds for customers that need it for distance learning, telecommuting, or telemedicine, and offering 50 Mbps broadband service for free through June 30 to new customers in need.

Ninestar Connect is increasing broadband speeds up to 1 Gbps through April 10 for customers on fiber.

Socket Telecom is increasing broadband speeds to 1 Gbps for 60 days for residential customers on fiber.

Starry is offering free 30 Mbps broadband service through the end of May for both new and existing customers in affordable housing.

Sprint is offering unlimited smartphone data and additional mobile hotspot data for 60 days, increasing data usage limits for high school students without home Internet that are supported by the 1Million Project Foundation, and accelerating the delivery of 100,000 devices originally intended for next school year to those students.

T-Mobile is offering unlimited smartphone data and additional mobile hotspot data for 60 days, providing additional free data to Lifeline partners’ customers, increasing data usage limits for schools and students using EmpowerED digital learning programs, and offering free international calling to COVID19 impacted countries.

Verizon is tripling the data usage limit for students in Title I schools that are part of the Verizon Innovative Learning Program and committing an additional $10 million to nonprofits supporting students and first responders.

Washington Broadband is increasing broadband speeds for student customers and offering broadband service for free to students who cannot afford it and small business owners who have had to close their businesses.

For more on free and low-cost internet plans, visit the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. In addition, some states are compiling maps of service provider areas — see North Carolina and Wisconsin, for example.  

FCC Action

The FCC took a number of actions this week intended to meet people’s connectivity needs as our lives increasingly (exponentially) move online. 

On March 13, the FCC fully funded all eligible Rural Health Care Program services for the current funding year with an additional $42.19 million in funding. This action will help ensure that healthcare providers have the resources they need to promote telehealth solutions for patients.

The FCC granted Telecommunications Relay Service providers temporary waivers to better enable American Sign Language interpreters to work from home in order to maintain relay services during the current coronavirus pandemic for individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind, or have a speech disability. Telecommunications relay services (TRS) ensure access to the communications network for hundreds of thousands of Americans with disabilities.The FCC also temporarily waived certain other TRS rules to provide flexibility to providers and allow them to continue to provide these vital services.

On March 18, the FCC made it easier for broadband providers to support telehealth and remote learning efforts by waiving gift rules until September 30, 2020. The waiver will enable service providers to offer, and Rural Health Care and E-Rate program participants to solicit and accept, improved connections or additional equipment for telemedicine or remote learning during the coronavirus outbreak. FCC rules prohibited soliciting or accepting any thing of value from a service provider participating or seeking to participate in those programs. The waiver will allow health care providers, schools, and libraries to accept improved capacity, Wi-Fi hotspots, networking gear, or other equipment or services during the coronavirus outbreak. For example, some providers have expressed interest in providing free network upgrades for hospitals that need more robust connections to treat patients via telemedicine and free connected devices and hotspots for students who will be taking classes at home. This waiver will enable them to do such things.

There were also changes for the Lifeline program. The FCC waived recertification and reverification requirements for participating low-income consumers for 60 days. The FCC also waived for 60 days the requirement that participating carriers’ enrollment representatives register with the Lifeline program administrator, the Universal Service Administrative Company. These changes are meant to ease burdens on Lifeline subscribers during the coronavirus pandemic and allow Lifeline carriers to focus their efforts on assisting customers.

On the wireless front, we’ve been reading all week about spectrum lending. Wireless spectrum holders are working together to most efficiently use available spectrum. That has led carriers and spectrum holders to temporarily put competition aside and enter wireless spectrum lending arrangements. The goal is to expand voice, video, and data capacity where it is needed as work, education and commerce shifts to the home from the office, school, and store. The FCC has been expediting approval of the required special temporary authority (STA) requests. Dish Network and at least six other spectrum holders are loaning T-Mobile 600 MHz spectrum for 60 days. T-Mobile also expanded roaming access to Sprint subscribers to its network. In addition to Dish, carriers loaning spectrum to T-Mobile are Bluewater, Channel 51, Comcast, Grain Management affiliate NewLevel, LB Holdings, and Omega Wireless.

The FCC’s major spectrum actions:

More Work to be Done to Connect Us All

Even with all this activity, we’re seeing too many stories about too many people who are not connected during this pandemic. 

Many U.S. public school students will find that the work they do while at home is actually optional. It won’t be graded and it won’t count. “It’s an equity issue. If you can’t guarantee all your students have online access, nothing’s graded,” said Tim Robinson, a spokesman in Seattle Public Schools in Washington, which closed schools and plans to broadcast not-for-grade educational activities online and by TV.

The School District of Philadelphia will not allow teachers to do “remote instruction” with students while schools are closed. Because the district cannot ensure equal access to technology among students, it’s barring individual schools from providing graded virtual instruction. Superintendent William Hite said teachers cannot require students to do work remotely or grade them on that work.

Around the country, employees are being asked to rely on their broadband connections to work remotely and school-aged children are attending “school” remotely via the internet. But for large numbers of Americans, broadband connectivity simply isn’t available or it’s not affordable. The problem known as the “digital divide” is one that has dogged lawmakers and policymakers for years. 

Many, like FCC Commissioner Jessica Ronsenworcel, say the coronavirus crisis is exposing “hard truths about the scope of the digital divide.” 

At Benton, we’re compiling all of the news we see relating to coronavirus and connectivity. We will continue coverage as we all work to ensure everyone gets and stays connected during this crisis. 


The full list of the 390 companies that have taken the Keep Americans Connected Pledge is: AcenTek, ACIRA – Powered by Farmers Mutual Telephone Company & Federated Telephone, Advanced Communications Technology, Agri-Valley Communications, Alaska Communications, Alenco Communications, All West Communications, Alliance Communications, ALLO Communications, Allstream Business US, AlticeUSA, Amery Telecom, Amherst Telephone Company, Antietam Broadband, Appalachian Wireless, Aristotle Unified Communications, Arlington Telephone Company, Armstrong, AT&T, ATC Communications, Atlantic Broadband, ATMC, Bandwidth, Baraga Telephone Company, BBT, Beaver Creek Cooperative Telephone Company, Beehive Broadband, BEK Communications, Ben Lomand Connect, Benkelman Telephone Company, Bergen Telephone Company, Beulahland Communications, BEVCOMM, Bijou Telephone Co-Op, Blackfoot Communications, Blanchard Telephone Company, Bledsoe Telephone Cooperative, Bloomingdale Communications, Bloomingdale Home Telephone Company, Blue Valley Tele-Communications, Bolt Internet, BOYCOM Vision, Bracken Cable, Bresco Broadband, Bristol Bay Telephone Cooperative, Broadband VI, Bruce Telephone Company, Btel Fiber, Burlington Telecom, Bush-Tell, BWTelecom, C Spire, Cable One, Cambio Broadband, Cap Rock Telephone Cooperative, Casco Communications, Cass Telephone Company, Cellcom, CentraCom, Central Arkansas Telephone Cooperative, Central Texas Telecommunications, Central Texas Telephone Cooperative, CenturyLink, Charter, Chickasaw Telephone Company, Choice Wireless, Cincinnati Bell, Citizens Connected, Clear Lake Telephone Company, ClearWave Communications, Cochrane Co-op Telephone, Colfax Cable, Comcast, Common Networks, Community Wireless, Comporium, Consolidated Communications, Consolidated Companies, Consolidated Telecommunications, Coons Valley Farmers Telephone, Copper Valley Telecom, Cordova Telephone Company, Cox Communications, Cozad Telephone Company, Craigville Telephone Company, Cunningham Communications, Cunningham Telephone Company, D&P Communications, Dakota Carrier Network, Dakota Central, Dallas Network Services, DayStarr Communications, DC Access, Dickey Rural Networks, Digital West, Diller Telephone Company, DirectLink, DTC Communications, Dubois Telephone Exchange, Eagle Telephone System, EarthLink, East Ascension Telephone Company, Eastern Nebraska Telephone Company, Education Networks of America, Emerald Broadband, Emery Telecom, EMPOWER Broadband, Endeavor Communications, Enhanced Telecommunications Corporation, EPLUS Broadband, Etex Telephone Cooperative, Ethoplex, F&B Communications, Farmers Mutual Co-Op Phone Co, Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative, Fatbeam, Fidelity Communications, FirstLight, Frontier, Garden Valley Technologies, GCI, GeoLinks, Gila River Telecommunications, Golden Belt Telephone Association, Golden West Telecommunications, Google Fiber, Grande Communications, Granite State Communications, Granite Telecommunications, Grantsburg Telecom, Great Plains Communications, Griggs County Telephone Company, GRM Networks, Gunnison Telephone Company, GVTC Communications, GWI, Hamilton Communications, Hancock Telephone Company, Hargray Communications, Hartman Telephone Exchanges, Hawaiian Telcom, Henderson Cooperative Telephone Company, Hiawatha Broadband, Hiawatha Telephone Company, Highland Telephone Cooperative, Hill Country, Holway Telephone Company, Home Telecom, Horry Telephone Cooperative, Hotwire Communications, HTC, Hudson Valley Wireless, Hughes, IAMO Communications, IdeaTek Telcom, Industry Telephone Company, Inteliquent, InterBel Telephone Company, Interstate Telecommunications Cooperative, Jade Communications, James Valley Telecommunications, James Valley Wireless, Kalida Telephone Company, Kennebec Telephone Company, Kit Carson Internet, KLM Telephone Company, Kloud Konnect, KPU, Kuhn Communications, Kwikom Communications, Lafourche Telephone Company, Lakeland Communications, LaValle Telephone Cooperative, Lennon Telephone Company, Liberty Cablevision of Puerto Rico, LICT Corporation, Lightburst Broadband, Lightstream, Ligonier Telephone, LigTel Communications, Limestone Cable, Lincoln Telephone Company, LISCO, Long Lines Broadband, Loop Internet, LTC Networks, Lynxx Networks, Madison Telephone Company, Mammoth Networks/Visionary Broadband, Manti Tele Communications Company, Manti Telephone Company, Marquette-Adams Telephone Cooperative, Masergy Communications, Matanuska Telephone Association, Mediacom, Merit Network, MetTel, Michigan Broadband Services, Midco, Middleburgh Telephone Company, Mid-Hudson Cable, Midstate Communications, Midway Telephone Company, MLGC, Mobile Beacon, Monkeybrains, Monon Telephone Company, Monroe Telephone Company, Mosaic Telecom, Moundridge Telephone Company, Mount Horeb Telephone Company, MTE Communications, NATCO Communications, NCC, Nebraska Central Telephone Company, Nelson Cable, Nemont, Neptuno, NeuBeam, New Lisbon Broadband and Communications, New Lisbon Telephone Company, New Paris Telephone, NewWave Communications, Nex-Tech, NfinityLink Communications, Ninestar Connect, NiTCO, Nortex Communications, North Central Telephone Cooperative, North Dakota Telephone Company, Northeast Louisiana Telephone Company, Northeast Nebraska Telephone Company, Northern Telephone Cooperative, Northern Valley Communications, Northland Communications, NorthState, Northwest Communications, Northwest Communications Cooperative, Northwest Fiber, Northwest Missouri Cellular, Norvado, Nsight Teleservices, Ntec, Nushagak Cooperative, Ontonagon County Telephone Company, Orbitel Communications, Palmetto Rural Telephone Cooperative, Paul Bunyan Communications, Peninsula Fiber Network, Pennsylvania Telephone Company, Peoples Telephone Cooperative, Pierce Telecommunications, Pigeon Telephone Company, Pine Belt Communications, Pine Drive Telephone Company, Pioneer Communications, Pioneer Telephone Cooperative, Plainview Telephone Company, Plateau Telecommunications, Poka Lambro Telephone Cooperative, Polar Communications, Portative Technologies, Premier Communications, Puerto Rico Telephone Company/Claro, PVT Networks, Rainbow Communications, Range Telephone Cooperative, RCN, Red River Communications, Red Spectrum, Reserve Telephone Company, RG Fiber, Richland-Grant Telephone Cooperative, Rise Broadband, Riviera Telephone Company, Rochester Telephone Company, Rock County Telephone Company, RT Communications, RTC (North Dakota), RTC Communications, RTI, S&T Telecom, Sacred Wind Communications, San Carlos Apache Telecommunications, Sand Creek Communications, Sandhill Telephone Cooperative, Santel Communications Cooperative, SCC Networks, SCI/Savage Communications, SCTelecom, Segra/Lumos Networks, Service Electric Cablevision, Sharon Telephone Company, Shawnee Communications, Silver Star Communications, Sirentel, Sjoberg’s, Skyline Membership Cooperative, Smith Bagley, Smithville Communications, Socket Telecom, Solarus, Somerset Telephone Company, Sonic, SOS Communications, South Plains Telephone Cooperative, Southern Kansas Telephone Company, Springcom, Springport Telephone Company, Sprint, SRT Communications, St. John Cable, Stanton Telecom, Starry, STRATA Networks, Strata Networks, StratusIQ, STT Rural Net, TCC Networks, TCC Skywire NW, TCT, TDS Telecom, Tele-Media Solutions, TelNet Worldwide, The Blair Telephone Company, Three Rivers Digital, Three Rivers Telco, Thumb Cellular, Ting Internet, TMobile, ToledoTel, Totah Communications, Totelcom, TOWARDEX, TracFone Wireless, Tri-County Communications Cooperative, TrioTel Communications, TruVista Communications, Tularosa Basin Telephone, Turtle Mountain Communications, Twin Lakes, Twin Valley Telephone, Union Telephone Company, United Communications, United Communications Association and United Telephone Association, Uniti Fiber, US Cellular, US Internet, USConnect, Valley Connections, Valley FiberCom, Valley Telephone Cooperative, Vast Broadband, Venture Communications, Verizon, Verona Networks, Viaero Wireless, Viasat, Viya, VTX1, Vyve Broadband Investments, Wabash Communications CO-OP, Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom, Wander Internet, Watch Communications, Wauneta Telephone Company, Wave Broadband, Wave Wireless, Wavelinc Communications, Webster-Calhoun Cooperative Telephone Association, West Carolina Rural Telephone Cooperative, West Kentucky and Tennessee Telephone Cooperative, West River Cooperative Telephone Company, West River Telecom, West Telecom Services, Westphalia Broadband, Westphalia Telephone Company, Wilson Communications, Windstream, Winn Telecom, Winn Telephone Company, Wisper Internet, WispWest, Wittenberg Telephone Company, WorldNet Telecommunications, XIT Rural Telephone, Yadkin Valley Telephone Company, YK Communications, ZenFi Networks, and ZIRKEL Wireless.

ICYMI from Benton

Upcoming Events (Who’s Zoomin’ Who?)

Broadband Breakfast Live Online Will Stream Daily in March on ‘Broadband and the Coronavirus’

Mar 24 Technological Advisory Council Meeting (FCC)

Mar 25 Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force Meeting (FCC)

Mar 27 Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee Meeting (FCC)

Mar 31 March 2020 Open Commission Meeting (FCC)

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy – rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity – has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.


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Kevin Taglang