Comcast offers free WiFi, waives data cap and late fees, won’t disconnect service during coronavirus outbreak

(Gene J. Puskar/ AP Photo, File)

(Gene J. Puskar/ AP Photo, File)

This article originally appeared on The Philadelphia Inquirer.

With more people working and studying from home due to the coronavirus outbreak, Comcast is giving customers unlimited data for no additional charge and making its vast network of Xfinity WiFi hot spots free for everyone.

The Philadelphia media giant also pledged that it won’t disconnect service or impose late fees if customers can’t pay their bills during the pandemic, which has shut down some industries and put many out of work. In addition, the company is offering new low-income customers 60 days of free internet service and boosting their broadband speeds.

The commitments come after Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai urged internet service providers to keep consumers connected during the coronavirus outbreak. Comcast, the nation’s largest home internet provider, was one of dozens of companies that agreed to waive late fees and service cancellations and open WiFi hot spots to all Americans for the next 60 days.

“During this extraordinary time, it is vital that as many Americans as possible stay connected to the internet – for education, work, and personal health reasons,” Dave Watson, CEO of Comcast’s cable unit, said in a statement.

Philadelphia Councilmember Bobby Henon drafted a resolution calling on Comcast to make many of the commitments that the company later announced, such as relaxing data caps on internet service. He had planned to introduce the resolution this week, he wrote in a statement on Facebook.

Philadelphia ranks near the bottom in the rate of households with internet access, according to Census data. Across the United States in 2017, the national broadband penetration rate by household was 83.5 percent. In Philadelphia, the rate was 71.6 percent, the second-lowest among the 25 largest cities.

Comcast said it will monitor its network to ensure it can handle a potential spike in internet usage.

The company will pause data plans for 60 days, meaning that customers can use unlimited data without facing additional charges. Comcast typically charges customers a $10 fee if they exceed 1 terabyte of data a month, though the company had suspended data plans for the Philly region years before the coronavirus outbreak.

Starting Monday, customers who sign up for Comcast’s low-income broadband program, called Internet Essentials, will receive 60 days of complimentary service, the company said. The service will cost $9.95 a month after that period and offers download speeds of 25 mbps and upload speeds of 3 mpbs. There is no term contract or credit check, and no shipping fee for the cable modem.

To qualify, customers must be eligible for public assistance programs such as the National School Lunch Program, Medicaid, or SNAP; can’t owe Comcast a debt that’s less than a year old; and must not have been a Comcast internet subscriber within the last 90 days.

Customers can sign up for the service by visiting www.internetessentials.com or call 1-855-846-8376 for English and 1-855-765-6995 for Spanish.

 

The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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