Since the first detected case of COVID-19 in the USA on January 20, the country’s infection rate has risen alarmingly. The USA now has more cases of coronavirus than any other country in the world and the statistics are only going to get worse.
Experts predict that by the time the virus has run its course, coronavirus will have infected millions in the USA. Worse still, they foresee 100,000 to 200,000 deaths from the illness in the United States. Whether they contract the virus or not, everyone in the USA is going to be impacted by the economic impact of COVID-19.
Some businesses are closing temporarily in order to reduce the risk of the illness spreading, some enterprises have even gone bankrupt and many more report that they would not be able to survive a social distancing policy that lasts for more than a few weeks.
People are already losing their jobs because of the virus and risk defaulting on their mortgages or being evicted from rental properties for non-payment. Although many states have implemented housing cost assistance, with 34 states issuing moratoriums on evictions, the response to the problem is not uniform across the nation.
Another financial problem that many already face is the difficulty in paying utility bills. As with the issue of rent or mortgage payments, the assistance available with late or missing payments on your utilities varies from state to state and from provider to provider.
Internet Service Assistance
Internet service providers have presented a more united front in their response to the COVID crisis. This is largely due to the intervention of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which is the governing body for the telecommunications industry.
The FCC came up with the Keep Americans Connected Pledge just three weeks after the first US case arose.
The FCC plan initially endures for 60 days, but it could be extended. The scheme extends to telephone services as well as internet plans. However, it is not compulsory. Conscious of the need to maintain a socially responsible image, all of the major internet service providers have signed up to the plan.
Central elements of the assistance plan include a tolerance for late or missed payments by residential and small business customers. Compliant service providers agree not to terminate the service of those experiencing difficulties paying their bills during the period of the pledge. The agreement also includes a commitment to waive late payment fees. The FCC also asks that those providers that maintain public wifi hotspots make these accessible to all during the crisis.
One more line of support that internet service providers offer lies with access plans for low-income families. Not all ISPs provide these plans and those that do might not make them available in all of the areas that they operate because they are supported by public subsidies that not all states and local authorities provide.
If you suddenly find yourself unemployed and reliant on state assistance, you will become eligible for a low-cost internet access plan. One problem with this change in circumstances, however, is that most ISPs don’t allow existing customers to switch to the affordable plans. If you are currently on a contract and committed to a minimum service period, you will find it impossible to switch providers and take advantage of these offers. Also, in many areas of the United States, typical households only have access to one internet network and so won’t have the opportunity to switch providers to take up a discounted internet service.
Internet Service Providers Offering COVID Crisis Assistance
Here is a rundown of the major US internet service providers that offer support to those financially impacted by the current COVID crisis.
AT&T has signed up for the pledge and so its customers will have less to worry about during these troubled times. The former Baby Bell goes even further than the FCC plan because it has also removed all data caps.
Ordinarily, AT&T’s top plan, Fiber Internet 1000 doesn’t include data caps, but the company’s regular DSL service, which it calls AT&T IPBB (IP Backbone), has a 1 Terabyte (1 TB) monthly data limit. That throughput cap normally also applies to the Fiber Internet 100 and Fiber Internet 300 plans, but not during the coronavirus outbreak.
AT&T’s Access plan for low-income households has been available for a long time, though not very widely publicized. The cost of the plan depends on the speeds available in each area. There are two service types available and they are priced depending on the speed offers, which is measured in kilobits per second (Kbps) or megabits per second (Mbps). If the service available has a speed of 5 to 10 Mbps, the price for the plan is $10 per month. In areas with slower service, ranging from 768 Kbps to 3 Mbps, the price is $5 per month. Installation and a wi-fi router are free with this plan.
CenturyLink has signed up to the Keep Americans Connected Pledge and so will not be disconnecting customers who can’t pay their internet bills and it will waive late payment charges. The company has also removed the data caps on its internet plans.
The CenturyLink discounted service for low-income households is called Lifeline. This is different from the assistance programs of other ISPs because it is implemented as a voucher giving a $9.95 discount on any of the company’s internet plans with speeds up to 15 Mbps. The regular price for those services is $49 per month.
On March 13, Charter announced that it would not charge schoolchildren or students for internet access on its Spectrum services. It is also making its wifi hotspot network freely available. This service is available not just to the youngsters, but to their families at home. There is a catch. Existing customers can’t get that free service. Also, this free offer only applies to speeds up to 100 Mbps.
The wider public will also be able to access the Charter Spectrum public wifi hotspots for free.
Charter will not disconnect any of its customers for non-payment during the same 60-day period and also won’t charge late payment penalties.
The Charter offer for low-income families is called Spectrum Internet Assist. Households that are on the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) or those 65 or over on Supplemental Security Income qualify. The plan does not require a contract and costs $14.99 per month. It includes a free modem, speeds up to 30 Mbps, no data caps. A home wifi router can be rented for $5 per month under the plan.
The low-income household plan from Cox Cable internet is called Connect2Compete. This service costs $9.95 per month with free installation and modem. The company will offer the first s60 days of this service for free to new customers during the crisis period.
The Cox internet technical support service, called Cox Complete Care will be free to all Cox internet customers. Cox is also offering cheap reconditioned computers through a partnership with PCs for People and has produced a free homeschooling guide and utility, called Learn from Home.
For the duration of the outbreak, Cox is scrapping its data caps and it will not disconnect any of its customers for non-payment or charge late payment fees. The company is also increasing the speeds available on all of its plans.
The Cox network of wifi hotspots in public places will be free for all to access until further notice.
Frontier Communications will not disconnect non-paying customers or charge late payment penalties during the COVID-19 outbreak because it has pledged to the keep Americans Connected plan. Frontier internet services never have had data caps.
The Frontier access system for low-income families takes the form of a $10 discount on its internet plans. This is part of the FCC’s Lifeline program.
Google will disconnect any of its customers for non-payment through to May 15, 2020. The company has never charged late payment fees and it does not impose data caps. The Google Spaces stores will be closed for the duration of the crisis, but the wifi hotspots in those premises will still be operational and free for all the public to access.
OPTIMUM AND SUDDENLINK
Optimum and Suddenlink are part of Altice USA and its internet access plan for low-income households is called Altice Advantage internet. This costs $14.95 per month and includes the rental fee for a home wifi router. The plan gives download speeds of up to 30 Mbps.
Altice offers free internet for all households with a child of school age as an assistance measure while schools are closed. This is implemented in the form of a 60-day free introductory service for those who sign up for Altice Advantage Internet. None of the Optimum or Suddenlink plans have data caps and both companies pledge that they will not suspend the internet service to customers who can’t pay or pay late.
Verizon Lifeline is a discount on its internet plans and is available only to low-income households. The discount can only be applied to Verizon Fios plans offering 18 Mbps download speeds or above.
Verizon has also agreed to the FCC’s Keep American’s Connected requirements and so it will not be disconnecting customers who don’t pay or charging late payment fees during the virus outbreak. The company is also waiving activation and upgrade fees for the time being.
XFINITY BY COMCAST
Comcast’s Xfinity has a low-income plan, called Internet Essentials. To make life easier for households hit by financial problems during the COVID-19 pandemic, Xfinity is offering access to this service for free for 60-days, but only for new sign-ups. Existing Internet Essentials customers will benefit, however, because the company is going to increase the allowed download speed of the service from 15 Mbps to 25 Mbps for the period of the lockdown.
The discounted Xfinity service is only available to households receiving Federal assistance. Its regular price is $9.94 and that includes set up costs and equipment rental fee. The extensive Xfinity network of public wifi hotspots will be free for all to use for the duration of the crisis and the company is also suspending all data caps on its home internet plans. Comcast will not disconnect any customers or charge late payment fines over the next 60 days.
Keeping Online During the COVID Crisis
Despite media scare stories, all of the major ISPS in America have prepped their systems for increased load and all declare that they will be able to maintain a satisfactory service. Some densely populated areas might experience slowdowns. However, with the schools closed, the usual home-time slowdown caused by youngsters hitting the internet as soon as they get in the house should stop. When the internet is available all day, the need for everyone to get on all at one should subside and internet loads will even out.
Reports of the infection rate of the coronavirus outbreak are worrying and the insecurity of not getting paid for the duration will weigh heavily on many Americans. However, you don’t need to worry about not being able to pay for the internet. You will be able to stay online throughout the COVID-19 crisis.