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 April 6-10, 2020
“For social distancing to work, home-isolation has to be bearable for everyone.” The Washington Post came to that conclusion on March 29, 16 days after President Trump declared the spread of COVID-19 a national emergency. The Post also concluded that we must address the needs of “Americans who are the least digitally connected.” How are we doing on that front?
As Benton Senior Fellow and Public Advocate Gigi Sohn told Congress in January, 141 million people in the U.S. don’t have fixed home Internet at the FCC’s 25 down, 3 up broadband definition. That’s nearly 43% of Americans.
What ISPs Say They Are Offering
As we reported earlier, the Federal Communications Commission thanked hundreds of broadband internet access service providers and telephone companies for voluntarily taking the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. That pledge has three parts — two of which help preserve service for households in economic stress and one part, the opening of Wi-Fi hotspots, that mostly drives people out of their homes in order to access the internet. Although better than no internet access at all, the hotspot option is less than optimal for families trying to work from home, continue studies, consult doctors, or check-in with loved ones.
In addition to the pledge, the FCC highlighted that some carriers are extending offers that could help connect more people during the pandemic.
Nebraska’s ALLO Communications told the FCC it is offering 50 Mbps broadband service for free for 60 days to households without Internet service and reducing fees for 60 days for existing and new broadband customers in need, and waiving service modification fees for businesses and residences. The offers, however, are not publicized on the company’s website.
Altice USA (Optimum and Suddenlink) is offering Altice Advantage to new households with students for free for 60 days. To learn more, visit optimum.com/keepyouconnected or suddenlink.com/keepyouconnected. Altice is also partnering with school districts in the New York City tri-state area to offer its Student WiFi product at no cost for 60 days. Altice Business Student WiFi provides students who have school-issued devices the ability to use the Optimum WiFi Hot Spot Network to access their school’s network and resources from home if they do not have dedicated Internet access. Interested schools, can visit www.AlticeBusiness.com/contact.
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.
Atlantic Broadband introduced a new low-cost broadband plan for new customers. Atlantic Broadband Internet Assist provides 15mbps service free for two months and then for $9.99 plus taxes per month after.
North Dakota’s BEK Communications told the FCC that it is offering broadband service for free for four months to new customers with telehealth, education, and work-from-home needs. Information about the offering, however, is not available on the company’s website.
Cable One (Sparklight) introduced a 15 Mbps internet plan for $10 per month that is available through mid-May to help low-income families and those most impacted from coronavirus challenges, such as seniors and college students. No documentation will be required to sign up for this plan.
Charter (Spectrum) is offering broadband service for free for 60 days to new households with K-college students and teachers — and waiving installation fees for such households.
Comcast (Xfinity) is offering broadband service for free for 60 days to new Internet Essentials customers. New customers can apply by visiting www.internetessentials.com. The accessible website also includes the option to video chat with customer service agents in American Sign Language. Additionally, for eligible university students, Comcast is offering free installation and a $150 Visa prepaid card through June 1.
Comporium, based in South Carolina, offered 60 days of free service to new customers in homes where a student lives. And 60 days of free Standard HSI service and free installation were offered to any home that was: 1) the primary home of a student in kindergarten through high school, in technical school, in college, or in graduate school; 2) currently without Comporium internet service and that hadn’t had internet service with Comporium for the past 90 days; and 3) located where Comporium would normally provide internet service. Comporium also waived installation fees and its normal security deposit process during this time. This is available to new customers until Monday, April 6, 2020.
Cox is offering broadband service for free for 30 days to new Connect2Compete customers, fast-tracking the qualification process, and offering remote desktop support for free to Connect2Compete and certain other customers. Schools are being asked to contact [email protected] with a list of eligible low-income students that currently do not have an internet connection. Cox has also partnered with PCs for People where families can purchase discounted refurbished computers. More information can be found here: https://cox.pcsrefurbished.com/.
Through May 31, Alaska’s GCI is offering free, entry-level plans for new customers, including free Wi-Fi equipment for new customers who are students or teachers. Regularly, GCI offers one month of free service to new subscribers. GCI also offers wireless service through the FCC’s Lifeline program for $1/month.
Florida’s Hotwire Communications told the FCC it is offering free 100 Mbps broadband for two months to new customers that are students or in low-income households. However, information about the deal is not available on the company’s website.
Mediacom is offering broadband service for free for 60 days to new Connect2Compete customers who subscribe before May 15.
Nelson Cable told the FCC that it is offering 50 Mbps broadband service for free through June 30 to new customers in need. However, this information is not available on the company’s website.
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. Visitors may have a hard time finding the offer on the company’s website, however.
Starry, which provides broadband service to apartment buildings, is offering free 30 Mbps broadband service through the end of May for both new and existing customers in affordable housing.
TDS Telecom is offering free broadband to new customers who are low-income and/or families with students for the next 60 days.
T-Mobile introduced T-Mobile Connect, its lowest-priced smartphone plan ever, as well as additional, new, limited, low-cost smartphone plans. The T-Mobile Connect plan is $15/month plus tax for unlimited talk and text plus 2GB high-speed smartphone data. For $25 per month plus tax, customers get 5GB of high-speed smartphone data. T-Mobile is also reducing prices for hotspot devices and doubling the data allotment for those devices.
Vast Broadband is offering free broadband for two months for Black Hills State University students who don’t currently have home Internet. Vast says it will partner with school districts to ensure students in need of connectivity for remote learning with limited resources can still have internet.
Starting April 3, Verizon made a new broadband discount program available to new Fios Internet customers (yes, only Fios) who qualify through the FCC’s Lifeline program. Customers may select any Verizon Fios speed in its Mix & Match plans and receive a $20 discount per month. That means new customers can get Fios Home Internet 200/200Mbps service for just $19.99/mo, with Disney+ for one year and the first two months of their router rental charge waived. Customers will also qualify for any additional promotions available for new Fios Home Internet subscribers.
Washington Broadband, based in Yakima (WA), told the FCC it is offering broadband service for free to students who cannot afford it and small business owners who have had to close their businesses. The FCC granted the fixed-wireless internet service provider special temporary authority to access 45 MHz of 5.9 GHz spectrum during the emergency to meet increased demand. But the information about the free offering is not available on the company’s website.
Windstream told the FCC that it is offering two months of free service and waived activation fees for new low-income customers, but that information is not available on the company’s website.
What’s Missing Here?
If potential consumers learn of, and can take advantage of, these offers, more people will be able to stay home safely while remaining connected to critical services, family and friends. However, some providers, as we noted, are telling the FCC about the offers but not highlighting them for potential customers. And, as even a quick glance at this list illustrates, these providers don’t offer service everywhere in the U.S.
16 million Americans have filed for unemployment in just the last 3 weeks. We’ll likely need a nationwide plan to get or keep the newly unemployed connected.
Moreover, the nature of the health crisis is making it more difficult for broadband service providers.
Cox Cable, which serves 19 states across the U.S., has stopped sending people for in-home visits and instead, to troubleshoot has begun doing smartphone video conferences with customers, sometimes even from the truck outside their home. Verizon has also stopped routinely sending technicians to the home. It has limited installs to just medical emergencies and “critical” installations. For other customers, Verizon has moved to remote video chats, similar to Cox. Washington Broadband has also stopped entering homes.
New broadband customers may find this an additional barrier to getting subscribed.
In any case, we have a patchwork of proposed solutions with no one overseeing how successful the various approaches are.
In summarizing the broadband provisions of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act last week, I was struck by the focus on connecting institutions, not people. As Congress considers additional relief and recovery bills, it may have to turn its attention to making sure no one is stranded home unconnected again.
By staying apart, we’ll all get through this together. Stay well, stay safe.
- Sen Wyden Leads Colleagues in Demanding Expanded Internet Access for Low-Income Americans Throughout COVIC-19 Crisis (US Senate)
- The FCC Could Do More Now About the Digital Divide (Broadband Breakfast)
- Legislators Push for $2 Billion for Broadband (Multichannel News)
- Pandemic Amplifies Calls for Universal Broadband (Multichannel News)
- Pandemic Changes Pace of Federal Funding for Broadband Deployment (Institute for Local Self-Reliance)
Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)
- Americans without broadband struggle in a stuck-at-home nation (Associated Press)
- Local Leaders Explain Why Broadband Has Been Essential for Emergency Responses (Next Century Cities)
- Coronavirus Sparks New Interest in Bridging Digital Divides (Government Technology)
- Community Broadband Networks Roundup Half of ReConnect Round One Awards (Institute for Local Self-Reliance)
- State Broadband Initiatives: Selected State and Local Approaches as Potential Models for Federal Initiatives to Address the Digital Divide (Congressional Research Service)
- ICYMI from Benton
- The Other Homework Gap: Post-Secondary Education During COVID-19 (Christopher Ali)
- How Does the CARES Act Connect Us? (Kevin Taglang)
- Digital Equity and Broadband Adoption (Gigi Sohn)
Apr 14 — How Internet Access Can Preserve Native Cultures (Internet Society)
Apr 22 — Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee Meeting (NTIA)
Apr 23 — Commerce Spectrum Management Advisory Committee Meeting (FCC