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Dozens of telecom companies pledge no-cost unlimited data, faster internet, during coronavirus outbreak

  • Staff photo by Ben Conant—

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 3/22/2020 9:38:10 PM

As life in the coronavirus pandemic moves increasingly into the online sphere, with adults telecommuting and students telelearning in the name of social distancing, the need for bandwidth and high speeds has never been more present. Companies are taking steps to close the gap for communities that don’t have those tools readily available.

In the Monadnock Region, broadband speeds are scarce enough on the ground, to the point which municipalities have contracted with internet providers to bond funds to build the infrastructure to improve speeds. Now with more people than ever trying to log on, for work and for school, internet providers are stepping up to offer higher speeds to those most in need. Namely, students, teachers and people on low incomes.

Rindge Teltech Committee Chair Phil Motta, who was a strong advocate of the recently passed bond to build fiber infrastructure in Rindge, said the current situation is a perfect illustration of why rural areas need better internet access.

“With so many folks working from home and so many schools doing remote learning, it shows how reliant we are on internet service and the expectation that people have broadband service at home,” Motta said. “Many people are using the internet to shop for goods and services so they don't have to go out. Churches are streaming services so people can still connect with their community while remaining at home. Internet service is now seen as another household utility.”

On March 12, the Federal Communications Commission urged broadband and telephone providers to take a pledge to commit to three standards for 60 days: to not terminate services to any residential or small business who are unable to pay bills due to the disruption, waive late fees, and to open their WiFi hotspots to anyone in need.

Internet providers jumped on board to sign the pledge, including local providers such as Comcast, Consolidated Communications, Sprint, Verizon, US Cellular, TracFone Wireless, T-Mobile and dozens of others.

Internet providers have begun the process of making good on increasing access to WiFi hotspots, rolling out protocols for getting connected.

Adam Reed, of TDS, said in an interview Wednesday that he’s seen customers taking advantage of the offer.

“In the last 48 hours, [I made] a month’s worth of internet connections,” he said.

TDS is offering connections for students, from kindergarten to college, as well as educators free for 60 days. The company will send a bill, but also simultaneously issue a credit. All residents have to do is announce their intention when they first call. After the 60 days, if the residents can’t or don’t want to continue the service, they don’t have to pay anything to get the service removed.

Comcast, which also serves the Monadnock Community, has announced it’s opening its WiFi hotspots, allowing phone customers unlimited data, and offering 60 days of its internet essentials package to income-qualified customers, and increasing its offered speeds to broadband-level service for the next two months.

“As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected. Broadband will enable them to communicate with their loved ones and doctors, telework, ensure their children can engage in remote learning, and—importantly—take part in the ‘social distancing’ that will be so critical to limiting the spread of this novel coronavirus,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a March 13 statement. “That’s why I’m asking all broadband and telephone service providers to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. I don’t want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity.”

The FCC has also recommended companies provide broadband-level speed, which the FCC defines as at least 25 megabits of download speed per second, and 3 megabits of upload speed, and waive long-distance and overage fees where it’s appropriate.

Motta said these offering can supplement internet access in a time when most of the public places people used to rely on are closed or offering limited services.

“People cannot rely on using broadband from coffee shops, restaurants, or libraries that are closed or not allowing the public to come inside. People need to have their own broadband access to the internet,” Motta said.

Contact your internet provider or check their website for further information about their approach to service during the coronavirus outbreak.


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