Senators introduce bill to stop internet shutoffs during coronavirus pandemic

Senators Jeff Merkley, Bernie Sanders, and Ron Wyden have proposed legislation that would make it illegal for telecommunications providers to terminate internet or phone services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ultimately, the Continuing Online Networking, Negating Economic Conditions on Technology (CONNECT) At Home Act aims to put a moratorium on service terminations by internet and voice service providers during the current national state of emergency and for 180 days after its expiration. The bill would be retroactive to March 13, 2020 and would require that any provider that terminated services on or after that date "immediately resume providing the service upon the date of enactment of this Act.”

As noted in the bill’s announcement, as unemployment continues to rise, millions of Americans are being faced with bills that they simply cannot pay. This has become especially true for those in low-income families.

"Now—as millions of Americans hunker down, work from home, and engage in remote learning—would be the absolute worst time for Americans to lose a critical utility like Internet service," Senator Merkley said in an announcement.

Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge added, "It is unconscionable to shut off services when Americans need them most. This is why we commend Sen. Merkley for introducing legislation that would ensure Americans continue to have access to these essential services.”

While the Federal Communications Commission has asked service providers to sign a voluntary pledge not to terminate services to residential or small-business customers during the pandemic, Senator Merkley's bill would take things one step further by imposing penalties for service providers.

Senator Merkley announced the bill as "a complement" to the Emergency Water is a Human Right Act which seeks to impose a "moratorium on water, electricity, and gas disconnections.” By partnering the two bills in one package, Senator Merkley claims that “such legislation would ensure that Americans have access to the utilities that are even more essential during the COVID-19 pandemic."