As schools suspend classes, businesses close and companies ask their employees to work from home during the spread of the novel coronavirus, the pressure on communications networks will rise. Comcast and AT&T are the first internet providers to respond by extending data caps.
Their decisions come as Free Press called on internet service providers to “respond to the national-health emergency by waiving key broadband costs for those hit hard by COVID-19.”
The coronavirus causes an illness called COVID-19, which exhibits pneumonia-like symptoms. The virus was first reported to the World Health Organization on Dec. 31 after originating in Wuhan, China. COVID-19 has spread globally, to Africa, the Americas, Australia, Europe, the Middle East, the UK and other parts of Asia. Chinese scientists have linked the disease to a family of viruses known as coronaviruses, which include SARS and MERS.
Coronavirus deaths now top 4,700, with over 128,000 cases confirmed worldwide. The World Health Organization declared the virus a global pandemic on March 11. As of March 12, US cases of coronavirus were sitting at around 1,300.
Comcast has increased the speeds of its Internet Essentials plan aimed at low-income earners as of March 16, Dana Strong, president of Comcast Cable consumer services, said in a blog post Thursday. This involves offering 60 days of free service, after which people will be charged $9.95 per month, and increasing speeds on this plan from 15/2Mbps to 25/3Mbps.
“As our country continues to manage the COVID-19 emergency, we recognize that our company plays an important role in helping our customers stay connected – to their families, their workplaces, their schools, and the latest information about the virus – through the internet,” Strong wrote.
AT&T is waiving fees for going over data caps, adding that many of its internet customers already have unlimited data.
“Additionally, through Access from AT&T we’ll continue to offer internet data to qualifying limited income households for $10 a month,” an AT&T spokesperson added in an emailed statement.
Verizon said it’s “constantly monitoring data usage and the needs of our customers” in an emailed statement. The carrier said it’s more focused on ensuring first responders in public safety, healthcare and government agencies have access to networks, which could become more congested from heavier usage than normal.
Verizon also pointed out its home broadband plans, including 5G Home and Fios, already come with unlimited data.
Sprint didn’t have a response by time of publication. T-Mobile didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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