FCC Chairman sees traction with Keep Americans Connected Pledge

As a growing number of people shift to working from home and officials at the local, state and federal level close schools, restaurants, bars and other businesses, the big four U.S. carriers are working to ease the burden on subscribers as COVID-19 changes day-to-day routines.

Late last week, U.S. Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai called a number of connectivity providers to discuss his Keep Americans Connected Pledge. Designed to help mitigate the overall impact of COVID-19, the pledge asks service providers to not terminate service, waive late fees and open up Wi-Fi networks for the next 60 days.

“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,” Pai said in a statement. “Broadband will enable them to communicate with their loved ones and doctors, telework, ensure their children can engage in remote learning, and—importantly—take part in the ‘social distancing’ that will be so critical to limiting the spread of this novel coronavirus.”

Worth noting that Pai’s FCC led the charge of undoing Obama-era net neutrality rules that essentially legislated the treatment of broadband services like other utilities.

Within 24 hours of floating the pledge, Pai said there was a long list of supporters, including Altice USA, AT&T, Cable One, Comcast, Cox, Google Fiber, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

In addition to fulfilling the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, AT&T said it is providing unlimited wired and wireless home broadband; providing a 50% rate cut on AT&T World Connect Advantage plans; and free 90-day use of Cisco Webex Meetings for businesses, universities and schools. AT&T has also instructed employees who can work from home to do so until further notice.

Sprint signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge and said it will also by Thursday roll-out unlimited data for 60 months for customers on metered plans and provide an additional 20 GB per month of mobile hot spot use.  Chief Commercial Officer Dow Draper said Sprint will also add capacity to “high utilization sites,” conduct ongoing network optimization, and encourages those working from home to enable Wi-Fi calling on their devices. “We will continue to monitor this situation very closely and make updates as needed to ensure we are doing everything we can for our customers, employees and communities,” Draper wrote.

In addition to adding unlimited data use, added hot spot capacity and providing 5 GB of extra data per month to Lifeline users, T-Mobile US is adding network capacity via short-term spectrum agreements. T-Mobile will tap into 600 MHz spectrum from Bluewater, Channel 51, Comcast, DISH, NewLevel and others. CEO John Legere wrote in a letter to customers, “We have taken extra steps to ensure that our network continues to perform and meet increased demand.” He said the spectrum sharing agreements would provide a 58% capacity increase at 600 MHz.

Verizon is also keeping pace with its comp set in terms of adhering to the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, and providing additional data. The carrier also said, if necessary, it will “prioritize network demand in assisting many U.S. hospitals, first responders and government agencies, as needed.”

Further, Verizon adjusted its 2020 capex guidance, initially set at between $17 billion and $18 billion, up by $500 million. The company said in a statement last week it hasn’t seen a “measurable” increase in data consumption. But, “We’re looking towards the future and increasing our investments so that we’re poised to offer even more robust networks, to meet future demands, in the years to come,” CEO Hans Vestberg said in a statement. “We are very confident in our company’s ability to meet current demands in providing a great network experience.”



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