The Coronavirus Outbreak

The pledge some companies took, in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, also calls for them to open public Wi-Fi hot spots and waive late fees, the F.C.C. said.

As cases of the coronavirus increase across the country, companies have increasingly encouraged employees to work from home.
As cases of the coronavirus increase across the country, companies have increasingly encouraged employees to work from home.Credit...Christian Sorensen Hansen for The New York Times
Johnny Diaz

AT&T, Comcast and dozens of other telecommunications firms have committed to not disconnecting service to residential and small business customers who can’t pay their bills because of the coronavirus outbreak, the Federal Communications Commission said on Friday.

The pledge the companies plan to implement also calls for them to open public Wi-Fi hot spots and waive late fees for 60 days.

“I don’t want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity,” the commission’s chairman, Ajit Pai, said on Friday.

As cases of the coronavirus spread across the country, companies have encouraged employees to work more from home. Schools and students are relying on the internet for remote online learning, and doctors and medical professionals are using it for video consultations with patients.

“We know that more Americans than ever before will need internet access for work, education, and health care,” Jessica Rosenworcel, an F.C.C. commissioner, said on Friday. “We also know that this crisis will expose hard truths about the scope for the digital divide.’’

She highlighted the need to have students connected as classes shift to virtual learning because schools have closed.

Ms. Rosenworcel also noted the importance of maintaining connectivity for hospitals, and for patients being treated for the coronavirus and those who are quarantined. “Where data caps and overage fees are in place, they need to be lifted and eliminated,” she said.

Mr. Pai said that at least 69 companies had agreed to the F.C.C.’s “Keep Americans Connected Pledge.”

It was unclear whether customers would have to provide some type of proof of economic hardship related to the coronavirus.

“We expect each company that takes the pledge to abide by it and to implement appropriate procedures to ensure that it does,” the commission’s press secretary, Tina Pelkey, said on Saturday.

John Legere, chief executive of T-Mobile, said Friday on Twitter that “for the next 60 days, we’re ensuring ALL @TMobile & @MetroByTMobile customers that are on plans with data have the connection they depend on.” The company is also boosting its data allowance free for schools and students for the next 60 days.

AT&T said it would not terminate service for home phone, broadband residential or small business customers “because of their inability to pay their bill” related to the coronavirus. The company also said it would waive late service payment fees and keep public Wi-Fi hot spots open “for any American who needs them.”

Comcast said it was making its Xfinity Wi-Fi hot spots available for free and providing unlimited data at no additional charge for the next 60 days. The company is also allowing new customers to receive 60 days of complimentary Internet Essentials service, which is available to qualified low-income families for $9.95 per month.

Mr. Pai applauded the companies that had signed on to the pledge.

“They are stepping up to the plate and taking critical steps that will make it easier for Americans to stay connected during this pandemic and maintain much-needed social distancing,” Mr. Pai said.

  • Updated March 14, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to lung lesions and pneumonia.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      It seems to spread very easily from person to person, especially in homes, hospitals and other confined spaces. The pathogen can travel through the air, enveloped in tiny respiratory droplets that are produced when a sick person breathes, talks, coughs or sneezes.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 152,000 in at least 125 countries and more than 5,700 have died. The spread has slowed in China but is gaining speed in Europe and the United States. World Health Organization officials said the outbreak qualifies as a pandemic.
    • What symptoms should I look out for?
      Symptoms, which can take between two to 14 days to appear, include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Milder cases may resemble the flu or a bad cold, but people may be able to pass on the virus even before they develop symptoms.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The State Department has issued a global Level 3 health advisory telling United States citizens to “reconsider travel” to all countries because of the worldwide effects of the coronavirus. This is the department’s second-highest advisory.
    • How long will it take to develop a treatment or vaccine?
      Several drugs are being tested, and some initial findings are expected soon. A vaccine to stop the spread is still at least a year away.