AT&T is waiving home-Internet data caps during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Many of our AT&T Internet customers already have unlimited home-Internet access, and we are waiving Internet data overages for the remaining customers,” AT&T said in a statement provided to Ars today.
AT&T imposes monthly data caps of 150GB on DSL, 250GB on fixed wireless, and 1TB on most of its faster wireline services. Overage charges are $10 for each additional 50GB, up to a maximum of $100 or $200 per month, depending on the plan.
AT&T provides unlimited data to customers when they subscribe to the gigabit-speed tier or when they purchase both Internet and TV service. There’s also an option to pay $30 extra per month for unlimited data.
We asked AT&T whether it plans to relax any of the data caps and speed limits imposed on mobile service but haven’t gotten an answer yet.
Including AT&T, we sent emails this morning to 10 home, mobile, and satellite ISPs asking whether they plan to lift or relax data caps while coronavirus forces many students and workers to stay home.
Comcast, the biggest home-Internet provider in the United States, hasn’t told us whether it will suspend data caps, so the caps are apparently still being enforced for now. Comcast announced today that it’s raising speeds from 15Mbps download/2Mbps upload to 25Mbps/3Mbps on Internet Essentials, a service for low-income Americans. Comcast said it is also giving 60 days of free Internet Essentials service to new low-income customers.
According to Motherboard reporter Karl Bode, a Comcast rep said that “there were ‘lots of conversations’ currently going on in regards to getting ahead of the outbreak, but wasn’t able to confirm whether a usage cap suspension would be part of the company’s playbook.”
AT&T is the second-biggest provider that enforces data caps on home-Internet service. AT&T’s statement today also noted that it “continue[s] to offer Internet data to qualifying limited-income households for $10 a month” through its Access from AT&T discount service, but the company didn’t announce any changes to that program.
FCC Democrats urge data-cap waiver
We also contacted the offices of all five FCC commissioners today. The two Democrats on the Republican-majority commission got back to us and urged ISPs to waive or relax their data caps. The three Republicans, including Chairman Ajit Pai, have not commented.
FCC Democrat Geoffrey Starks called for a 60-day waiver on data caps:
In light of the number of Americans who will be telecommuting, using telemedicine, attending classes online, and otherwise using the Internet more, I am calling on broadband providers to waive data caps in affected communities for the next 60 days. This tailored approach will no doubt cost telecom companies, but it recognizes the urgency of the moment. Action by wireless providers is especially critical because 26 percent of low-income Americans have a smartphone, but not broadband at home.”
FCC Democrat Jessica Rosenworcel said that, because of coronavirus, “we are going to explore the expansion of telework, telehealth, and tele-education as we never have before. This means getting connectivity to the disconnected. It also means relaxing things like data caps and fees that can hold consumers back from getting online. Government and private industry need to rise to this challenge and do the right thing. The time to act is now.”
FCC Republican Michael O’Rielly’s office declined to comment when contacted by Ars. We haven’t heard back from Pai or FCC Republican Brendan Carr. (Update: Pai announced that dozens of ISPs agreed to waive late fees and keep customers connected when they miss payments. Pai also said he urged ISPs “to relax their data cap policies in appropriate circumstances.”)
Eighteen US senators, all members of the Democratic caucus, sent a letter to ISPs urging them to “temporarily suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by COVID-19” and to coordinate with schools to provide free or low-cost broadband for students.
Mediacom, a cable company, told Ars that it is “giving all customers on all service tiers 50GB of additional data through March 31” and that it will “revisit” the topic in April “to see if this policy needs to be extended or changed.” Mediacom’s data caps range from 150GB to 6TB a month. Customers are charged $10 for each additional block of 50GB.
Cox pointed us to a statement about coronavirus preparation but hasn’t waived data caps. A company spokesperson told us to expect a further update today or tomorrow. “Students and remote workers are top of mind as we consider policy and service changes across the board,” a Cox spokesperson said. Update: Cox didn’t waive data caps, but is upgrading speeds on some plans for the next 60 days, and offering a free month for new customers who enroll in a low-income plan.
Suddenlink owner Altice did not tell us whether it will suspend data caps. “We are closely monitoring network usage and are assessing all of our policies and procedures to best support our customers during this unprecedented time,” an Altice spokesperson said.
Viasat, which runs the Exede satellite Internet service, told Ars that “Viasat does not have hard data caps and we do not require our customers to purchase more data… We expect more customers will be online during the day—and they will have access to use the capacity, as available—without any additional fees.” But that’s misleading because Viasat’s “unlimited” plans provide a set amount of high-speed data, such as 40GB or 100GB a month, and reduce speeds after customers hit those thresholds if the network is congested. On certain plans, can pay more to bypass limits through Viasat’s “Buy More” system, which lets you “purchase more data in 1GB increments without having to upgrade to a higher data plan. If you’re getting close to your monthly data allowance and don’t want your service to be slowed and/or restricted, Buy More will give you the data you need to stay at regular speeds.”
“The number of current customers with the Buy More option is very small and at this time we are not planning any changes to that plan,” Viasat said.
ISPs we are still waiting to hear back from include Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile, Sprint, and HughesNet. We’ll provide updates from carriers as we get them.
Charter and Verizon do not impose data caps and overage fees on home-Internet service. On mobile service, Verizon and other companies impose a variety of limits on high-speed data and hotspot usage, even on “unlimited” plans.
Disclosure: The Advance/Newhouse Partnership, which owns 13 percent of Charter, is part of Advance Publications. Advance Publications owns Condé Nast, which owns Ars Technica.