The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced May 14 that 774 broadband and telephone providers have agreed to extend the Keep Americans Connected Pledge through June 30 as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.
Signatories to the pledge, which was originally set to expire May 12, have agreed to not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic; waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.
Last month FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced he was extending the pledge. In a statement, Pai said that since his announcement the number of companies who have signed on to the pledge has increased rather than decreased and that more companies have signed onto the pledge for the first time than those companies who declined to extend the pledge.
“I’m pleased that the overwhelming majority of companies taking the pledge has agreed to extend that commitment through the end of June and that new companies have joined this effort,” said Pai. “This will help ensure that Americans can continue to communicate with loved ones, access education, and get healthcare remotely as they practice social distancing.”
The announcement comes on the heels of a May 13 Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on the state of broadband amid the pandemic. Witnesses described broadband as “an essential service without universal access.”
Witnesses stressed the importance of keeping consumers connected during the pandemic.
“As the country comes together to face the largest public health crisis of our lifetime, it is now painfully clear that there are many areas of the country where more work needs to be done to provide and extend wireless services,” said Steven K. Berry, president and CEO of the Competitive Carriers Association. “We cannot ignore the undeniable fact that the digital divide persists, both in terms of areas of the country without access to broadband and in individual consumers’ ability to maintain broadband connections in this challenging economic climate … Unfortunately, we have confirmed nearly overnight that access to broadband is imperative to support all aspects of everyday life, from distance learning to remote work, healthcare, grocery shopping, family and virtual social gatherings, and more.”