With the incredible surge of people needing to work from home, the FCC has encouraged the nation’s Internet Service Providers to help people stay connected online.
To that end, FCC Chairman (and mug enthusiast Ajit Pai) announced many ISPs have signed his “Keep America Connected” pledge. The pledge is as follows:
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.
In addition to this pledge, Pai also asked broadband providers to relax data cap policies and asked telephone carriers to waive overage fees. But neither of these things were important enough to make it into the pledge, apparently.
Interestingly, two of the largest home internet providers, AT&T and Comcast, have waived data caps voluntarily.
AT&T did it a week ago, with Comcast following shortly thereafter.
I don’t know how many people (outside of the tech community) will pay attention to this, but the fact that both of these companies were able to lift these data overage charges so quickly, and without any time to make meaningful infrastructure improvements clearly demonstrates that these charges were not for “managing congestion”, but using their monopolistic positions to increase profit.
Some cell phone companies (that do have to worry about network congestion, given the limitations of cellular signal), including T-Mobile and my current favorite MVNO – Mint Mobile (Mint Mobile review)- have also temporarily lifted overage charges and data caps.
Commodity v. Utility
In Pai’s “Keep America Connected” pledge, he does specifically request that ISPs do not charge late fees or cut any internet connections, due to customers’ inability to pay.
While lots of subscriptions and services are (rightfully) assisting their customers in this way, there isn’t a government agency discussing the importance of BarkBox.
With the increasing number of people that have been required or requested to work or learn from home seem to make a basic admission that the Internet is a service as vital to most people as electricity and water, and needs to be regulated like a utility.
It will be interesting to see how Pai (and the ISPs) try to weasel out of this, but you can be guaranteed that they will attempt it.