Major Internet service providers are scheduled to end their quarantine benefits soon, once again subjecting Americans to data caps and removing protections if they are unable to pay their bills. On July 1, data caps returned to some major ISPs.
The FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge also expired on June 30. Companies initially agreed to the pledge and rushed to add benefits. ISPs like CenturyLink, T-Mobile, Verizon, and many others said they would not discontinue service or charge late fees for those unable to pay because of the coronavirus. They also agreed to open their Wi-Fi access points for free. So far, the FCC has not publicly said that it would extend the pledge.
In some ways, ISPs face the same decision as governors in Florida and Texas: end their benefits, which encouraged users to stay home, or continue them for an indeterminate period of time. For many of those who are out of work, ISPs could begin demanding payment for outstanding broadband bills on June 30.
Consumers who have been riding out the quarantine by streaming may also find that their unlimited data expired on July 1. On that day AT&T, Comcast Xfinity, and T-Mobile were scheduled to resume normal service, and once again impose data caps. Some ISPs, like Cox, have already terminated some benefits, as its temporary unlimited data program expired in May. Others, like AT&T, have extended theirs through Sept. 30.
All AT&T consumer home Internet customers, as well as Fixed Wireless Internet, can use unlimited data through June 30. On June 30, AT&T said it would waive overage charges through Sept. 30 for AT&T Fiber and AT&T Internet customers. It excludes DSL, Fixed Wireless Internet, and AT&T Wireless Internet and Mobility plans.
An automatic 10GB of data per month was temporarily added to customers’ capped phone plans, though that appears to have expired on June 24. Mobile hotspot data was increased by 15GB per month for those on unlimited cellular plans, through June 30. Navy personnel on select ships may make free calls to military bases, also through June 30.
AT&T pledged not to terminate the service of any customer who can’t pay their bill, and will waive the fees associated with late payments. (Waivers can be applied for here.) That expires on June 30. The company will continue to waive domestic postpaid wireless plan overage charges for data, voice or text for residential or small business wireless customers. AT&T will also keep its public Wi-Fi hotspots open to everyone, and has automatically increased hotspot data by 15GB per month per line.
New AT&T TV/DirectTV customers will receive a free year of HBO. An AT&T “Summer Camp” collection of content has been added, along with a number of free channels to those customers who didn’t already have them.
Until June 30, CenturyLink said it committed to waive late fees and to not terminate a residential or small business customer’s service due to financial circumstances associated with COVID-19. The company suspended data usage limits for consumer customers during this time period.
Consolidated joined the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, although its support page says that pledge expired on June 30. Consolidated already does not have data caps, the company said.
On March 13, Comcast said it would pause enforcement of its data caps for 60 days, essentially giving all of its customers unlimited data for that period. (Comcast normally gives its Xfinity customers two “grace” months for every 12, allowing them to exceed their data cap without penalty.) That was extended through June 30. Students who sign up for Xfinity Internet will receive a $150 Visa card. (Comcast traditionally hasn't enforced data caps in the Northeast, where it competes with Verizon FIOS.)
Comcast did increase its data cap from 1TB to 1.2TB. however.
New subscribers to Comcast’s $9.95/month Internet Essentials plan initially received two months free, and speeds were increased to 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up. Comcast said on June 19 that the “two months free” introductory offer for Internet Essentials will be extended through the rest of the year.
Comcast is also making its Xfinity WiFi service free for everyone, regardless of whether you’re a Comcast subscriber, through the end of 2020. (Here’s a map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots.) Comcast pledged not to to disconnect a customer if they can’t pay their bill, and has waived late fees, though it now says that "we’re offering customers in this program a variety of flexible and extended payment options" to keep customers connected.
Cox eliminated data usage overages starting March 16 for 60 days, later extended until the end of June. Cox previously said that it would not terminate service for any residential or small business customers, and would open its Cox WiFi hotspot network to keep the public connected. That was later extended through June 30.
Cox is offering free support calls and the first month free to its low-cost Internet service, Connect2Compete. (It will be free through July 15, Cox added.) Customers on its Essential plan will see their speeds increased from 30Mbps to 50Mbps, and Starter, StraightUp Internet and Connect2Compete packages will be automatically upgraded to speeds of 50 Mbps as well.
"After reviewing data consumption since the coronavirus crisis, we know that nearly 90 percent of customers would not have been charged for going over their 1TB data plan," a Cox spokesman said in an email. Cox is now raising future data allowances from 1 TB/mo to 1.25TB/mo.
Charter Communications’ Spectrum services do not have data caps, and the company said it will not terminate service for home or small business users who can’t pay because of the coronavirus pandemic, through June 30. Charter initially said it would offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi for 60 days if that household has K-12 students or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription -- that offer was extended until June 30, too. Charter also said it will open its Wi-Fi hotspots for public use, through June 30.
All of Charter’s existing HBO subscribers, including subscribers in its Spectrum Silver and Gold video packages, were automatically given access to HBO Max for no additional charge.
Earthlink is participating in the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, and pledged (as of March 16, 2020) not to terminate the service of any residential or small business customer because of their inability to pay their bill due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as not to charge late payment fees a residential or small business customer may incur because of economic hardship related to the coronavirus pandemic. The company does not appear to have coronavirus benefits currently in effect at this time.
Earthlink does not offer data caps on its residential service.
Frontier does not have data caps, and this will continue through the COVID-19 pandemic, the company said. It also plans to increase its capacity.
“Google Fi has joined the Keep Americans Connected Pledge,” according to a company spokesman, who has not said how long its pledge will be effective. Google Fi temporarily increased its limits for full-speed data to 30GB per user, for both Flexible and Unlimited Plans, as of April 1. After the 30GB limit is reached, a user can pay $10/GB to return to full-speed data for the remainder of the billing cycle.
Google is also extending its billing grace period to 60 days beyond the billing date. All of these measures are effective as of June 24, Google has said.
New customers who sign up for Mediacom’s Access Internet 60 broadband service can do so for $19.99/mo for 12 months, rather than $29.99/mo. Mediacom’s Connect2Compete service raised its speeds from 10Mbps down/1Mbps up to 25Mbps down/3Mbps up, and made it free for the first 60 days. It also made its Wi-Fi hotspot network publicly accessible, for free. Mediacom also paused monthly data allowances across all broadband service tiers, the company said on June 23. All of these initiatives now extend through August, Mediacom said.
Beginning with the September billing cycle and continuing through the end of 2020, Mediacom will provide up to 100 gigabytes of additional data to any broadband customer that exceeds their monthly data allowance for free, the company said.
Sparklight (formerly Cable One)
Sparklight said on March 13 that it would make unlimited data available on all Internet plans for 30 days. Sparklight extended unlimited data through May 12.
On March 16, the company said it would make its hotspots, accessible in its office parking lots, available for free public use, and added a 15Mbps internet plan for $10 per month, both of which it will extend through the remainder of 2020. The company now says it will work with customers who can't pay their bills on flexible payment plans, and will waive late fees through July 31. It will permanently boost its data caps by 50GB to 300GB, depending on the plan.
(As of April 1, Sprint completed its merger with T-Mobile.)
Sprint said on March 13 that it extended its network to include T-Mobile’s network for the next 60 days. Sprint signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge and committed to waiving fees and not terminating services if customers were unable to pay because of the coronavirus for the next 60 days. Customers with metered data plans received unlimited data for 60 days and 20GB of hotspot data for the same period.
Customers will be able to place free international calls to CDC-designated Level 3 countries.
Wireless broadband ISP Starry made Starry Connect, a broadband program for public and affordable housing owners, free through May. Normally, the program, which provides 30Mbps symmetrical speeds, is $15 per month. Starry agreed to suspend cancellation of service due to nonpayment due to the coronavirus, reportedly through July. It already does not charge additional fees or late fees. Starry’s service does not include data caps, either.
TDS said on March 16 that it would provide free broadband access to customer households with K-12 or college students. (Proof will be required.) TDS also its Wi-Fi hotspots to the public, for free. Other than that, TDS adhered to the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge only by agreeing not to disconnect customers who couldn’t pay their bills through June 30.
On June 29, TDS said that customers who received 60 days of free internet service will also receive a $10 credit off their bill for their next six months of service, and that it would work with customers to develop payment plans if necessary.
All current T-Mobile plans with data were granted free unlimited data through June 30, excluding roaming. T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers were given an additional 20GB of mobile hotspot and tethering services through June 30 as well. Lifeline customers were given an extra 5GB of data per month for the next two months.
“We do not have an offer available for 60 days of free service and encourage consumers to be cautious of social media posts that may include fraudulent numbers,” T-Mobile added. The company has also posted resources to help protect customers from scammers.
T-Mobile extended its commitment to the FCC pledge through June 30, continuing to offer support for postpaid wireless, residential and small business customers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Verizon waived late fees to keep residential and small business customers connected if negatively impacted by the global crisis, the company said on March 13.Though the Keep Americans Connected pledge has expired, starting July 1, customers who signed up for the pledge will automatically be enrolled in Verizon's Stay Connected repayment program to provide options to stay connected, the company said.
Verizon upgraded the data plan on its Verizon Innovative Learning program for Title 1 middle schools from 10GB/month to 30GB/month for two months, effective March 16. There are no data caps on Verizon home Internet subscribers, a company representative said.
Previously: on March 23, Verizon updated its coronavirus relief plans, noting that it will waive overage charges, upgrade fees and activation fees. Verizon has also pledged to not terminate service and waive late fees. Verizon is also adding 15GB of 4G LTE data to consumer and small business plans for free, and adding some free overseas calls to some countries. Verizon waived the next two months of billing cycles on its Lifeline plan. On April 3, Verizon launched a new broadband discount program; customers may select any Verizon Fios speed in its Mix & Match plans and receive a $20 discount per month.
Windstream did not announce any relief for customers affected by the coronavirus. The service does not implement data caps, however.
This story was updated on July 1 at 5:24 PM with additional details about Comcast's data plan.