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AT&T halts caps on broadband data as coronavirus drives many Americans inside

AT&T is the first internet service provider (ISP) to temporarily halt caps on broadband service for all of its customers as more and more people have been mandated to work from home and study virtually as the novel coronavirus spreads throughout in the U.S., according to Vice. 

On Thursday, following Vice’s reporting, nearly two dozen senators signed a letter urging more ISPs to do the same. 

“During this period, it’s likely that we’ll see historic numbers of American students and their teachers relying on data-intensive services such as video teleconferencing, remote learning courses, and virtual mental health services,” the letter stated. “Specifically, we ask that you temporarily suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by COVID-19 [the official name of the coronavirus] and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost, broadband options for students whose schools close due to COVID-19 who don’t have access at home.”

Many of AT&T’s millions of customers do not see caps on their broadband service, but some still have plans limiting their coverage to “150 GB to 1 terabyte per month,” according to Vice. 

“We’ll continue to look at other ways we might be able to help,” an AT&T spokesperson told Digital Trends in an email. “This was an important first step.”

Comcast’s low-income internet plan will give new customers 60 days of complimentary internet service and speeds will increase from 15/2 MBPS to 25/3 “for all new and existing customers.”

A press release announcing the company’s new internet plan launch, set to roll out within the coming days, noted “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.”

Spectrum said it “has no data caps as part of our service to begin with – it is one of our differentiators,” a spokesperson told Digital Trends via email. Spectrum provides broadband to nearly 103 million Americas across 44 states.

Verizon did not immediately respond to requests for comment made by Digital Trends. 

As COVID-19 spreads throughout the U.S., employers, schools, universities, and institutions are asking people to stay at home and only travel when necessary. Those who now have to work from home or join a virtual classroom, may not have the means to do so or the internet speeds to keep them up to date and on track with assignments and deadlines remotely. 

As noted by Vice, consumer groups like Free Press are pressuring ISPs and government agencies to do away with unnecessary surcharges for those with limited or no access. 

In a press release, Free Press Campaign Director Candace Clement said: “Especially during a crisis, internet and phone access should be accessible public services like water and electricity. The nation’s broadband providers need to do their part for the public benefit.”

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Meira Gebel
Meira Gebel is a freelance reporter based in Portland. She writes about tech, social media, and internet culture for Digital…
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