Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai sent a letter to Congress on June 19, asking legislators to ensure that consumers and small businesses remain connected when the Keep Americans Connected Pledge ends on June 30. Despite the expiration date, Chairman Pai has asked companies, in lieu of disconnecting those who have fallen behind on their bills as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, to offer extended and deferred payment plans. Communications and service providers have also been asked to maintain and grow their low-income, veteran and student remote learning plans in the next few months.
“The Pledge has been an extraordinary success, and I commend the 785 service providers that have stepped up to the plate over the past three-and-a-half months to do the right thing during this national emergency. This public-private partnership has been critical to American consumers,” Chairman Pai said. “But broadband and telephone companies, especially small ones, cannot continue to provide service without being paid for an indefinite period of time; no business in any sector of our economy could.”
Chairman Pai noted that many broadband and telephone service providers “have already committed to taking steps to keep Americans connected in coming months.” For example, the service providers are offering customers a 12-month pro-rated payment plan, deferring device payments, waiving portions of unpaid bills, and working with customers on a case-by-case basis. Specifically, “Charter is waiving a portion of the past due balance for customers who weren’t able to pay their broadband bill due to the pandemic. Comcast is keeping its Wi-Fi hotspots open to anyone who needs them through the end of the year. Starry is providing free service to customers in low-income housing through the end of July. And Verizon is automatically enrolling customers who signed up for the Pledge into a program that will allow repayment of past due balances over time.”
The pledge was introduced in March and extended to June 30. Approximately 800 service providers have participated in the pledge, where they agreed to not terminate service for consumers unable to pay their bills, waive late fees, and open Wi-Fi hotspots to any American in need; all steps taken as a result of the pandemic. Chairman Pai added that the Commission, Congress and service providers must ensure Americans remain connected as the Pledge ends. Chairman Pai noted that the proposed Broadband Connectivity and Digital Equity Frameworks “is a forward-thinking proposal” and stressed the importance of a resolution, while he thanked Congress for working with the FCC during this time to help Americans, for example, through the COVID-19 Telehealth Program.