The Keep Americans Connected Pledge has officially expired
Pai encourages lawmakers to consider The Broadband Connectivity and Digital Equity Framework
Broadband and cell phone carriers are clear to cut off past-due accounts and begin charging late fees following the expiration of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Keep Americans Connected program.
Though the program was never meant to serve as a permanent fix, it has provided thousands of cash-strapped Americans with free access to broadband and mobile services amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Nearly 800 service providers voluntarily signed the pledge, committing to forgo terminating services to customers because of an inability to pay their monthly bills during the pandemic. Signatories also agreed to waive late fees and open Wi-Fi hotspots as part of the program.
The program, however, came with an expiration date of June 30. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says Congress must take action to help keep these services affordable and has asked providers not to disconnect customers in July.
“The Pledge has been an extraordinary success, and I commend the 785 service providers that have stepped up to the plate over the past three-and-a-half months to do the right thing during this national emergency. This public-private partnership has been critical to American consumers,” Pai said.
“But broadband and telephone companies, especially small ones, cannot continue to provide service without being paid for an indefinite period of time; no business in any sector of our economy could. So I believe now is the time for legislation to ensure that...all Americans—remain connected until this emergency ends.”
To remedy the situation, Pai encouraged lawmakers to consider The Broadband Connectivity and Digital Equity Framework proposed by Chairman Roger Wicker of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the US Senate and Ranking Member Greg Walden of the Committee on Energy and Commerce of the US House of Representatives.
This framework includes investing in and promoting the deployment of broadband services nationwide.
As for service providers, companies like Charter are considering high balances from paused payment periods a write-off. Meanwhile, a Verizon spokeswoman said customers who signed up for billing relief under the pledge will be enrolled in a repayment program beginning Wednesday.
For their part, AT&T and Comcast have committed to working with customers to determine the best payment plan options.
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