SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is forcing thousands of Utahns to use the internet as telecommuters so they can work and learn from home.
That uses a lot of data. Scores of telecoms pledged to “Keep Americans Connected” at the beginning of the pandemic by lifting data caps, waiving fees and putting disconnects on hold.
Now that the pledge is over, what are those companies doing to keep subscribers that were hit hard financially by COVID-19?
Utah-based internet service provider Xmission was one of the hundreds of companies that signed onto the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected pledge in March.
“I like to think my businesses is human,” said Xmission CEO Pete Ashdown. “And we want to keep a customer and not torture a customer.”
That pledge expired in July, but Ashdown said Xmission will keep working with customers who have financial issues for as long as they can.
“There are a number of restaurants that approached us and said, ‘Hey, we want to keep our internet connection but right now we’re not doing any business. Is there any way we can suspend it or get a reduction in cost?” Ashdown said. “And we work with all those people (home residents), too. It’s not a big stress on my business to help somebody out.”
Since the start of the #COVID19 pandemic, the Commission has launched several initiatives to keep Americans connected. Learn more about them here: https://t.co/AG3yiyXJAY#coronavirus#KeepAmericansConnected
— The FCC (@FCC) June 4, 2020
Xmission does, however, have a 1.2 terabyte-a-month data cap. You’d have to watch 200 hours of 4K movies and TV shows to hit that limit, and that’s an awful lot of Tiger King.
Ashdown said his company has rarely enforced it.
“It’s a soft cap we generally have in place in case somebody wants to run a massive server farm in their farm for the cost of a residential connection – we need to recoup that bandwidth cost directly. But overall, it’s somebody who has left some streaming on by accident or their kids are downloading something they don’t know about,” explained Ashdown. “Usually, when we just say, ‘Hey, look, we’ve noticed this spike in your usage,’ it drops accordingly.”
However, other companies are now enforcing their data caps.
Comcast allows 1.2 terabytes a month. If you or your family blows past that limit, you can get zinged $10 for every 50 gigabytes of data past that limit, up to $100 on your bill.
And CenturyLink just brought back its one terabyte data cap for DSL subscribers. While there are no overage fees, you could wind up enrolled in a higher-level, more expensive plan or get disconnected.
Both companies have resumed disconnects and late fees, but they said they’re still willing to work with struggling subscribers.
How do you know if you’re getting close to your internet provider’s data cap? Most providers have a web page that tracks your usage. Another option is to check your router. Many meter data use.
“Most of the higher-end ones can do that and possibly give you an advisory or notification that this is what your current usage is at – put a ceiling on it,” said Ashdown.
You should know many cellphone companies also voluntarily pledged to keep Americans connected by waiving late fees and your service connected. That pledge of help has expired as well.
Excessive Data Use Policies
You won’t be billed for the first month you exceed 1.2 TB, but after that, Xfinity will charge you $10 for every additional 50 GB of data, up to a total of $100 each month.
Comcast said it has created an assistance program that allows customers to keep using their service during the pandemic.
For DSL subscribers, CenturyLink has no overage fees, but you’ll be asked to reduce your usage, enroll in a higher-speed plan or even switch to a business plan. If you don’t choose any of those options, you could face being disconnected.
CenturyLink said they’re creating new payment plans for qualifying customers with options to pay an outstanding bill over an extended period.
CenturyLink Gigabit Fiber subscribers don’t have a data cap.
Google Fiber doesn’t have data caps and it doesn’t charge late fees. Google does charge a reconnect fee if a subscriber gets disconnected. Anyone impacted by COVID-19 who needs to reconnect during the pandemic can contact customer service to get that fee waived.
In an email, Google Fiber said, “We are actively working with our customers who are suffering financial hardship to ensure they don’t lose essential internet coverage. Additionally, we are also developing longer-term options to help customers as this challenging period continues.”
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