AT&T is suspending data caps for all its customers until further notice, responding to pressure from a federal regulator who expressed concern that workers forced to work from home would be penalized for heavy internet use during the coronavirus.
That is according to multiple media reports, including Bloomberg News.
“Many of our AT&T internet customers already have unlimited home internet access, and we are waiving internet data overage for the remaining customers,” AT&T was quoted as saying. “Additionally, through Access From AT&T we’ll continue to offer internet data to qualifying limited income households for $10 a month.”
AT&T, along with other major internet providers like Verizon Communications and Comcast, typically charge more for heavy internet use. AT&T’s action is targeting subscribers with metered plans who pay on the basis of how much data they use. It is unclear if Verizon and Comcast will be taking similar measure.
“The coronavirus is already exposing hard truths about the digital divide,” said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a member of the Federal Communications Commission’s Democratic minority, in a statement on March 12.
“The FCC should immediately convene the country’s broadband providers to discuss what they are doing right now to provide service for Americans. We need to explore how we can facilitate public-private partnerships and consumer education campaigns to expand the reach of connectivity as quickly as possible at little or no-cost to Americans who are impacted by the coronavirus.
“Where data caps are in place, we need to explore how those limitations can be eliminated,” she added. “We also need to understand how broadband providers will keep workers safe and keep their services running for Americans who will increasingly rely on broadband connectivity for work, healthcare, and education.
Schools, sports leagues, law firms, the federal government and other organizations have all closed or encouraged employees to work from home as the U.S., like other nations, fights a pandemic caused by the novel coronavirus.
Devin Coldewey wrote in TechCrunch that this may be the “beginning of the end” for the data caps we’ve lived in fear of for decades.
“Think about it: If the internet provider can even temporarily lift the data caps, then there is definitively enough capacity for the network to be used without those caps. If there’s enough capacity, then why did the caps exist in the first place? Answer: Because they make money. That may be changing with the coronavirus, because after this very public exception to them it will be obvious to everyone that there is no reason for the caps to exist — including the FCC.”