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FCC Delays Auction Due to Coronavirus, Gets 500+ Pledges

Sandip Chakraborty

In light of the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) yesterday announced schedule changes for Auction 105 and the deferment of Auction 106. However, the Commission remains committed to holding the 3.5 GHz auction this summer and looks forward to beginning this important mid-band auction in July.

The FCC is postponing indefinitely Auction 106, an auction of construction permits in the FM broadcast service that was scheduled to begin on Apr 28. These adjustments were necessary to protect the health and safety of staff members and to allow parties additional time to prepare to participate. At the same time, chairman Ajit Pai stated that 580 broadband and telephone service providers have now taken his Keep Americans Connected Pledge, an increase of 190 from last Thursday.  

He also commended providers who responded to his call to go above and beyond the pledge by taking additional pro-consumer actions to enhance Americans’ connectivity in these unprecedented times. Many of these companies have gone even further, offering things like free service for low-income Americans and students, easing of data caps and increasing broadband speeds at no cost. These actions are helping many people transition to telework, telehealth and remote learning.

The spread of the virus has already caused a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical and civic life of our country. So, let’s find out how some prominent players are going the extra mile to help Americans stay connected.

Verizon Communications VZ: Headquartered in New York, this telecom and media giant is providing two months of free broadband and voice service for Lifeline customers. The company has introduced a new broadband option for low-income households while increasing high-speed data allotments for wireless customers, waiving activation fees on new wireless lines with free international calling to COVID-19 impacted countries.

AT&T T: Based in Dallas, TX, this wireless carrier is offering free data plans for certain school-issued tablets for 60 days. The company has waived wireless voice and data overage fees for all customers and expanded eligibility for its low-income Internet program while offering new program participants two free months of service. It has also created a $10 million fund to support distance learning.

T-Mobile US TMUS, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom DTEGY, has introduced low-cost smartphone plans. The Bellevue, WA-based company is reducing prices for hotspot devices and doubling data allotment for those devices.

TDS Telecom, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Telephone and Data Systems TDS, is offering free broadband to new customers who are from low-income families with children or college students for the next 60 days.

Vast Broadband is offering free broadband for two months for Black Hills State University students who do not have Internet at home. Windstream is offering two months of free service and waived activation fees for new low-income customers.

Claro is eliminating data caps in wireless plans, increasing the capacity of hotspots and data allotment for Lifeline customers. Cable One CABO has introduced a low-cost broadband plan for consumers for 60 days and is allowing unlimited data on all Internet services for 30 days.

It’s worth noting that the FCC granted Special Temporary Authority to AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular USM to use an additional spectrum in the 600 MHz, AWS-3 and AWS-4 bands to meet increased demand for mobile broadband. Providers have agreed to take specific steps to help people stay connected for the next 60 days. They have committed to not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay bills, waive late fees due to economic circumstances, and open Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone who needs them.

Summing Up

Apart from the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, the FCC is determined to enable access to communications for those impacted by COVID-19. The Commission voted to make an additional $42 million immediately available through its Rural Health Care Program. It temporarily waived certain requirements from its Lifeline program, which will ease the burden on Lifeline subscribers and allow carriers to streamline their efforts in assisting customers. In a concerted effort to prevent possible disruptions in service, especially for rural consumers, the Commission granted a temporary extension to hundreds of wireless Internet service providers in the 3650-3700 MHz band to transition their existing operations to the Citizens Broadband Radio Service rules.

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