Local broadband providers including Cox Communications, Charter-Spectrum and Viasat are boosting speeds and waiving fees to support students and workers at home because of coronavirus closures.
The move comes after the Federal Communications Commission urged broadband providers to open up Wi-Fi hotspots to the public, waive late fees and maintain service for residential and business customers who might struggle to pay their bills as part of a Keep America Connected Pledge.
With millions of Americans working from home and schools closed across several states, Internet providers also are taking steps to extend connectivity to more low-income families.
In the San Diego region, Cox Communications has boosted speeds for certain entry-level Internet plans to 50 megabits per second — up from 10 megabits to 25 megabits previously.
The speed increase currently is set to expire after 60 days for Starter, StraightUp Internet and Connect2Compete packages. The Starter package also is being offered at $20 per month with no annual contract.
“These are unprecedented times right now,” said Ceanne Guerra, a Cox spokeswoman. “So this is temporary, but we will continue to look at this in terms of speeds as things evolve.”
Cox is also offering one month of free service for new Connect2Compete customers to help bring online learning for schoolchildren.
Connect2Compete, which costs $10 per month, targets families eligible for the free or reduced lunch program.
In addition, Cox is working with non-profit Computers2Kids San Diego, which provides refurbished desktops and laptops with Microsoft Office software for $80 to $100 for qualified applicants.
“I would say there has been a 400 percent increase in emails and calls since Friday,” said Cheri Pierre, chief executive of Computers2Kids. The organization took an order last week from Palomar College for 380 computers. It still has some thousands of machines in inventory at its Miramar warehouse.
Charter Communications, which operates Spectrum broadband brand, is offering free Internet for 60 days to new customers with K-12 and college students at home.
Spectrum serves communities generally north of Interstate 8 plus Coronado in San Diego County, including La Jolla, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe and others. Installation and equipment fees also will be waived. Speeds locally top out at 200 megabits per second.
After two months, regular monthly pricing takes effect. But customers can cancel or change plans. Spectrum is a month-to-month provider. It does not have annual contracts.
Among other steps being taken, AT&T and T-Mobile are removing data usage caps, which can lead to overage charges. Verizon is following the FCC guidelines by eliminating late fees and committing not to terminate service if households are unable pay. To date, 185 Internet providers across the country have adopted the FCC’s pledge.
“It’s critical that Americans stay connected throughout the coronavirus pandemic so that they can remain in touch with loved ones, telework, engage in remote learning, participate in telehealth and maintain the social distancing that is so important to combating the spread of the virus,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a statement.
Carlsbad-based Viasat, a satellite Internet provider for homes and small businesses outside the reach of cable, also said it will adhere to the FCC’s guidelines.
In addition, the company is evaluating the feasibility of eliminating or expanding monthly data caps.
“Our satellite and ground technology enable us to make network adjustments to meet dynamic traffic needs,” said Tom Lookabaugh, corporate vice president of technology for Viasat. “We are working hard to access and forecast new usage and behavior models based on anticipated work-from-home and remote education needs, and then address network capacity and customer thresholds to meet network usage spikes and increased demand.”
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