Updated

Which Internet providers are lifting data caps during the coronavirus, and which aren't

While some ISPs have simply pledged not to cut off customers who can't pay their bills, others are going further.

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As American businesses are forced to shut down because of COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus), customers are anxious about their bill for Internet access. Data caps, an annoyance in the best of times, suddenly can mean paying additional fees if a family sheltering in place goes over their limit.

Think of it: you're working from home, videoconferencing over Skype or Zoom, while your kids are playing games and chatting with friends. There's streamed movies to watch in the evenings. Disney+ and Netflix may be in constant rotation, adding to the bandwidth strain. That's a lot of data! 

In response, some ISPs and cellular service providers are providing relief for customers. Some are merely adhering to the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge (PDF), which asks the signees not to terminate a customer’s service for non-payment. Others are removing data caps and lowering bills in response to COVID-19.

And others, as you will see in our list below, are doing nothing at all. 

AT&T

All AT&T home Internet Wireline customers, as well as Fixed Wireless Internet customers, can use unlimited data. AT&T will continue to offer $10/mo Access from AT&T service for qualifying customers. For the next 60 days, AT&T also pledged not to terminate the service of any customer who can’t pay their bill, and will waive the fees associated with late payments. AT&T will keep its public Wi-Fi hotspots open to everyone. 

CenturyLink 

For the next 60 days, CenturyLink said it has committed to waive late fees and to not terminate a residential or small business customer’s service due to financial circumstances associated with COVID-19. The company is also suspending data usage limits for consumer customers during this time period due to COVID-19. It has committed to the FCC's Keeping Americans Connected Pledge.

Consolidated Communications

Consolidated has posted a coronavirus response page that doesn’t go beyond a statement to “focus on ensuring stability of services and network performance for our customers.”

Comcast

On March 13, Comcast said that it would pause enforcement of its data caps for 60 days, essentially giving all of its customers unlimited data for that period. (Comcast normally gives its Xfinity customers two “grace” months for every 12, allowing them to exceed their data cap without penalty.) New subscribers to Comcast’s $9.95/month Internet Essentials plan will receive two months free, and speeds were increased to 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up.

Comcast is also making its Xfinity WiFi service free for everyone, regardless of whether you’re a Comcast subscriber or not. (Here’s a map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots.) 

Cox

Cox said on March 16 that it is eliminating data usage overages for the next 60 days. Customers with a 500GB or existing Unlimited plan will receive credits. New subscribers to the Cox Starter Internet plan will be able to sign up without an annual contract and receive 50Mbps download speeds. Cox previously said that it would not terminate service for any residential or small business customers, and would open its Cox WiFi hotspot network to keep the public connected. 

Cox is offering free support calls and the first month free to its low-cost Internet service, Connect2Compete. Customers on its Essential plan will see their speeds increased from 30Mbps to 50Mbps.

Charter (Spectrum)

Charter Communications’ Spectrum services does not have data caps. Charter said that it will offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi for 60 days if that household has K-12 students or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription. Charter also said it will open its Wi-Fi hotspots for public use.

This week, Charter also said that Spectrum TV customers will be given free Showtime and EPIX through Sunday, April 19.

Earthlink

Earthlink hasn’t announced any relief, though it does not offer data caps on its residential service.

Frontier Communications

At press time, Frontier has not announced any relief for customers affected by the coronavirus.

Google

"Google Fi has joined the Keep Americans Connected Pledge," according to a company spokesman, who has not said to which date it will be effective. 

Mediacom Communications

Mediacom has paused monthly data allowances through May 15 across all broadband service tiers, it said on March 16. New customers who sign up for Mediacom’s Access Internet 60 broadband service can do so for $19.99/mo for 12 months, rather than $29.99/mo. Mediacom’s Connect2Compete service is raising its speeds from 10Mbps down/1Mbps up to 25Mbps down/3Mbps up. It has also made its Wi-Fi hotspot network publicly accessible, for free, for 60 days. For the next 60 days, Mediacom will not disconnect service or assess late fees to any customer who calls and informs the company that they cannot pay their bill.

Sparklight (formerly Cable One)

Sparklight said on March 13 that it would make unlimited data available on all Internet plans for 30 days, while waiving late fees for 60 days. Customers who call the company can also negotiate deferrals of their payments. On March 16, the company said it would make its hotspots, accessible in its office parking lots, available for free public use. 

Sprint

Sprint said on March 13 that it has extended its network to include T-Mobile’s network as well for the next 60 days. Sprint has also signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge and will waive fees and not terminate services if customers are unable to pay because of the coronavirus for the next 60 days. Customers with metered data plans will now receive unlimited data for 60 days. They will also receive an additional 20GB of hotspot data for the same period. 

Customers will be able to place free international calls to CDC-designated Level 3 countries. 

Starry

Wireless broadband ISP Starry has made Starry Connect, a broadband program for public and affordable housing owners, free through May. Normally, the program, which provides 30Mbps symmetrical speeds, is $15/mo. Starry has also agreed to suspend cancellation of service due to nonpayment due to the coronavirus. It already does not charge additional fees or late fees. Starry's service does not include data caps, either.

TDS

TDS said on March 16 that it will be providing free broadband access to customer households with K-12 or college students. (Proof will be required.) Other than that, TDS is adhering to the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge only by agreeing not to disconnect customers who can’t pay their bills for the next 60 days. TDS has also opened its Wi-Fi hotspots for the next 60 days to the public, for free.

T-Mobile

All current T-Mobile plans with data will be granted free unlimited data for the next 60 days, excluding roaming. T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers will be given an additional 20GB of mobile hotspot and tethering services for the next 60 days. Lifeline customers will be given an extra 5GB of data per month for the next two months. 

“We do not have an offer available for 60 days of free service and encourage consumers to be cautious of social media posts that may include fraudulent numbers,” T-Mobile added

Verizon

Verizon will waive late fees and keep residential and small business customers connected if negatively impacted by the global crisis, the company said on March 13. It is also upgrading the data plan on its Verizon Innovative Learning program for Title 1 middle schools from 10GB/month to 30GB/month for the next two months, effective March 16. There are no data caps on Verizon home Internet subscribers, a company representative said.

On March 23, Verizon updated its coronavirus relief plans, noting that it will waive overage charges in addition to pledging to not terminate service and waive late fees. Verizon is also adding 15GB of 4G LTE data to consumer and small business plans for free. Verizon will waive the next two months of billing cycles on its Lifeline plan. On April 3, Verizon will launch a new broadband discount program; customers may select any Verizon Fios speed in our Mix & Match plans and receive a $20 discount per month.

Windstream (Kinetic)

Windstream has not announced any relief for customers affected by the coronavirus. The service does not implement data caps, however.

Updated March 25 with additional news from Spectrum and Google.

This story, "Which Internet providers are lifting data caps during the coronavirus, and which aren't" was originally published by PCWorld.

  
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