Reliable internet access is becoming more important as Americans are being urged to stay home to limit the spread of the pandemic coronavirus. Unfortunately, many people have barebones home internet plans that can make working from home difficult. AT&T and Comcast have both announced plans to make home internet access better in the wake of COVID-19, but not too much better. These are still ISPs, after all.
Comcast says its efforts focus on the Internet Essentials program, which offers access to low-income families. Unlike standard Comcast Xfinity internet service, you have to apply and be approved for the Internet Essentials program. If you meet the requirements, Comcast will set you up with a $10 monthly plan. However, the company will allow new sign-ups to have 60 days free right now.
Comcast Internet Essentials currently only offers 15 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up. That’s fine for casual use, but you’d probably want more if you’re stuck at home all day. In the coming days, Comcast will boost that to 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. Those speeds will become the default moving forward.
AT&T, meanwhile, is being more charitable by removing the usage caps on all accounts. The size of the cap varies by service region, but some are as low as 150GB per month. The more lucky among AT&T’s customers have a 1TB monthly cap, which is the same as Comcast. AT&T charges overages of $10 for each additional 50GB over the cap. Someone who suddenly has to work or attend classes from their home connection every day could end up crossing the cap and incurring fees.
We don’t know if AT&T’s removal of data caps will remain in place after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. It’s traditionally tough for a company to take something away after everyone has gotten used to it, but we live in extraordinary times.
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel has called on the agency to take action and make ISPs lift caps and drop overage fees. These moves by Comcast and AT&T could be an attempt to show they don’t need the government to mandate any changes. This gives them the freedom to minimize the impact on their bottom line and rescind the COVID-19 changes as soon as they can get away with it.
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