Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Major U.S. ISPs Agree to Relax Bill Payments and Late Penalties for Next Sixty Days

Karl Bode, writing Thursday for Vice:

For years, US broadband providers have taken advantage of a lack of US competition by imposing arbitrary and expensive broadband usage caps and “overage fees.” With the country facing a massive surge in videoconferencing and home learning thanks to the coronavirus epidemic, experts say it’s time for broadband providers to suspend these costly, unnecessary restrictions.

AT&T was the first major U.S. ISP to commit to suspending data caps, with Comcast following on Friday. The FCC also launched an initiative Friday, spearheaded by Chairman Ajit Pai, to “keep Americans connected”. Tony Romm, Washington Post:

As part of the so-called “Keep Americans Connected Pledge,” nationwide providers including CenturyLink and T-Mobile and more regional telecom companies across the country agreed for the next 60 days that they would not terminate service or assess late fees on customers and businesses that fall behind on their bills. They also agreed to open wi-fi hot spots to any American who needs them.

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

Led by Pai, the Republican-majority Federal Communications Commission gave up its authority to restrict data caps and other anti-consumer practices in late 2017 when it repealed net neutrality rules and deregulated the broadband industry. That vote also eliminated requirements for ISPs to be more transparent with customers about hidden fees and the consequences of exceeding data caps, and it lifted a ban on “unjust or unreasonable discrimination” in broadband rates, practices, and services. Stripping away these regulations made it harder for the FCC to guarantee affordable broadband.

Concerns like these apply to no other utility, and they are entirely valid. In 2018, Verizon throttled firefighters’ ostensibly unlimited plans. It’s good that ISPs are not taking advantage of this crisis, too, but the very possibility that they could is surely an indication that broadband infrastructure is broken.

Here in Canada, Telus is waiving overage fees; Shaw has lifted data caps and opened its WiFi hotspot system to non-subscribers. However, Shaw previously announced that its bullshit biannual rate increase would take effect on June 1, and there’s no word yet on whether it has been postponed.

Update: Margaret Harding McGill, Axios:

The virus crisis is offering vivid case studies of real-world, everyday harms that result from inequality between those who have access to and can afford high-speed internet, and those who cannot.

[…]

The FCC estimates 21 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed broadband, though that number could be higher due to problems with data collection.

That’s a huge number of people — roughly equivalent to the entire population of Australia — who lack broadband. Working from home isn’t always an option even with broadband, due to different employment requirements, but those without broadband may find it harder to access support and information.