Media companies to offer free internet to low-income families during coronavirus crisis

A sophomore at Brooklyn Friends School checks into her classes remotely from home after the school announced that it will be closed due to concerns about the coronavirus, March 11, 2020 in Brooklyn, New York. ( Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images )

Comcast and Charter Communications will be offering free access to their respective internet networks for low-income families and others for a need to stay connected to information during this coronavirus crisis.

“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,” said Dave Watson, Comcast Cable Chief Executive Officer. “Our employees also live and work in virtually every community we serve, and we all share the same belief that it’s our Company’s responsibility to step up and help out.”

Comcast is taking steps to implement the following new policies and other important initiatives for the next 60 days:

Xfinity WiFi Free For Everyone: Xfinity WiFi hotspots across the country will be available to anyone who needs them for free – including non-Xfinity Internet subscribers. For a map of Xfinity WiFi hotspots, visit www.xfinity.com/wifi. Once at a hotspot, consumers should select the “xfinitywifi” network name in the list of available hotspots and then launch a browser.

Pausing Our Data Plan: With so many people working and educating from home, we want our customers to access the internet without thinking about data plans. While the vast majority of our customers do not come close to using 1TB of data in a month, we are pausing our data plans for 60 days giving all customers Unlimited data for no additional charge.

No Disconnects or Late Fees: We will not disconnect a customer’s internet service or assess late fees if they contact us and let us know that they can’t pay their bills during this period. Our care teams will be available to offer flexible payment options and can help find other solutions.

Internet Essentials Free to New Customers: As announced yesterday, it’s even easier for low-income families who live in a Comcast service area to sign-up for Internet Essentials, the nation’s largest and most comprehensive broadband adoption program. New customers will receive 60 days of complimentary Internet Essentials service, which is normally available to all qualified low-income households for $9.95/month. Additionally, for all new and existing Internet Essentials customers, the speed of the program’s Internet service was increased to 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. That increase will go into effect for no additional fee and it will become the new base speed for the program going forward.

News, Information and Educational Content on X1: For those with school-age students at home, we’ve created new educational collections for all grade levels in partnership with Common Sense Media. Just say “education” into your X1 or Flex voice remote. To help keep customers informed, we also have created a collection of the most current news and information on Coronavirus. Just say “Coronavirus” into your X1 or Flex voice remote.

24x7 Network Monitoring: Underpinning all of these efforts, Comcast’s technology and engineering teams will continue to work tirelessly to support our network operations. We engineer our network capacity to handle spikes and shifts in usage patterns, and continuously test, monitor and enhance our systems and network to ensure they are ready to support customer usage. Our engineers and technicians staff our network operations centers 24/7 to ensure network performance and reliability. We are monitoring network usage and watching the load on the network both nationally and locally, and to date it is performing well.

For their part, Charter Communications is committing to do the following for 60 days:

-- Charter will offer free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students who do not already have a Spectrum broadband subscription and at any service level up to 100 Mbps. To enroll call 1-844-488-8395. Installation fees will be waived for new student households.

-- Charter will partner with school districts to ensure local communities are aware of these tools to help students learn remotely. Charter will continue to offer Spectrum Internet Assist, high speed broadband program to eligible low-income households delivering speeds of 30 Mbps.

-- Charter will open its Wi-Fi hotspots across our footprint for public use.

-- Spectrum does not have data caps or hidden fees.

The company says it will begin implementing its plan on Monday, March 16.