Working with the private sector, the FCC and Internet providers are taking steps to meet an expected surge in demand for broadband and wireless access as the impact of the coronavirus spreads.
The Federal Communications Commission on Sunday granted T-Mobile more acceess to broadband spectrum in a move to help meet the expected increase for fast Internet access as the corornavirus closes schools, universities and more workers at companies across the country begin to work at home.
“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 statement.
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T-Mobile is getting access to additional spectrucm that the FCC had reserved or committed to other providers. The availability is for 60 days.
The FCC said the move would help T-Mobile “meet increased customer demand for broadband during the coronavirus pandemic. The company requested this authority to make it easier for Americans to participate in telehealth, distance learning, and telework, and simply remain connected while practicing recommended social distancing.” The company also says it will be better prepared to meet the needs of first responders.
This move is the latest in a series launched by the FCC and commercial providers as part of a “Keep Americans Connected Pledge” launched on March 13, The FCC notes that 69 broadband and telephone providers across the country “agreed to take specific steps to help Americans stay connected for the next 60 days.”
U.S. phone and cable companies say that they won’t cut off home-internet and cellphone service for people and small businesses that are unable to pay because of the coronavirus pandemic, which is causing workplace shutdowns and layoffs. They’ll also waive late fees and make their networks of Wi-Fi hotspots available to the public.
The companies acted at the request of Pai, who is also encouraging — but not requiring — them to take further steps to make sure people can stay connected to each other, their schools, jobs and doctors as the country increasingly shuts down.
He suggested that the internet service providers increase and improve their low-cost internet offerings for low-income people, relax their data caps and try to help schools and libraries with remote learning, for example.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, has called on the FCC to do more to help families whose children’s schools have shut down, like beefing up a program that helps schools loan Wi-Fi hotspots to kids stuck at home. The AP has found that 3 million students have no internet access at home.
Some companies are taking additional steps like those Pai suggested. Cable companies Comcast and Cox are boosting internet speeds on their low-cost plans and offering one or two months of free service for new low-income customers. AT&T is waiving fees if people go over home-internet data caps.
The development comes as Ford and General Motors are asking white collar employees to work from home if possible, starting Monday. Factory workers for both companies still must report. Fiat Chrysler says it’s accelerating deployment of remote working.