On Monday, Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman, Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.), Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman, and Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) announced that they sent letters to nine internet service providers (ISPs) to question their moves to raise prices and enact data caps during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Specifically, letters were sent to Altice USA, AT&T, CenturyLink/Lumen, Charter Communications, Comcast Cable Communications, Cox Communications, Frontier Communications, T-Mobile US, and Verizon Communications.
The lawmakers noted that after Energy and Commerce Committee members wrote to these ISPs in March about the importance for families to have reliable and affordable broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic, almost all of the ISPs announced plans to introduce or expand efforts for affordable services, such as “free months of service, opening of Wi-Fi hotspots, and the waiver of data caps” and their voluntary Keep Americans Connected pledge, led by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in an effort to keep consumers connected during the COVID-19 pandemic even if they aren’t up to date on their payments. However, the lawmakers claimed that since their letter and the expiration of the pledge, some of the ISPs have raised prices and imposed or expanded data caps.
“As our nation continues to confront both a public health and economic crisis, it is critical that Americans have access to reliable and affordable internet service,” Reps. Pallone, Doyle and McNerney wrote. “Over the last ten months, internet service became even more essential as many Americans were forced to transition to remote work and online school. Broadband networks seem to have largely withstood these massive shifts in usage. Unfortunately, what cannot be overlooked or underestimated is the extent to which families without home internet service — particularly those with school-aged children at home — have been left out and left behind.” The lawmakers added that the ISPs’ recent price increases and data caps are “an egregious action at a time when households and small businesses across the country need high-speed, reliable broadband more than ever but are struggling to make ends meet.”
The lawmakers asked questions, such as:
- “Did your company participate in the FCC’s ‘Keep Americans Connected’ pledge?”
- “Have you increased prices for fixed or mobile consumer internet (or consumer phone) service since the start of the pandemic, or do you plan to raise prices on such plans within the next six months?”
- “Prior to March 2020, did any of your service plans impose a maximum data consumption threshold on your subscribers?”
- “Since March 2020, has your company modified or imposed any new maximum data consumption thresholds on service plans, or do you plan to do so within the next six months?”
- “Did your company stop disconnecting customers’ internet (and/or telephone) service due to their inability to pay during the pandemic? If so, did your company resume disconnecting such customers and when did you resume those disconnections? How many accounts have you disconnected since March 2020 due to customers’ inability to pay?”
- “Do you offer a plan designed for low-income households, or a plan established in March or later to help students and families with connectivity during the pandemic? Please provide details of the plans… Since March, or later if the program was established after March 2020, how many customers have signed up for these program(s)?”
- “Beyond service offerings for low-income customers, what steps are you currently taking to assist individuals and families facing financial hardship due to circumstances related to COVID-19?”