FCC's Pai: Congress Needs to Take Up Keep Americans Connected Pledge

FCC chairman Ajit Pai is making it clear to Congress that it needs to start funding ISP efforts to keep the public connected to broadband during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In testimony for a Senate Commerce Committee FCC oversight hearing Wednesday (June 24), Pai said that as the FCC and ISPs "transition out" of the Keep Americans Connected pledge--which expires at the end of this month after two extensions--it will "afford Congress the opportunity to provide funding in July to help ensure that Americans have continued access to broadband and telephone services." 

The FCC adopted its connectivity pledge March 12. It was to have ended May 12, but was extended to June 12, then June 30. Virtually all the major ISPs and many of the smaller ones--over 750 in all--signed on to that pledge: 1) "not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic;  (2) "waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and (3) "open WiFi hotspots to any American who needs them."  

Related: Pai Says He is Happy to Work with Congress to Help ISPs Recoup Pledge Costs 

"The Keep Americans Connected Pledge is a public-private partnership which has been critical to American consumers," he says. "Without it, many consumers would have found it much more difficult, if not impossible, to conduct their daily lives....I commend all of the broadband and telephone service providers that have stepped up to the plate to do the right thing during this national emergency."

Pai has asked ISPs to help with the transition by providing deferred or extended payment plans into July, as well as to "maintain and expand their plans for low-income families and veterans as well as their remote learning plans for students," but signaled Congress needs to take the subsidy baton and run with it.

Pai said the pledge has been an "extraordinary success," but told Congress the companies can't continue to provide service without getting paid for "an indefinite period of time." He said Congress needs to pass new legislation with funding, starting in July, "to ensure that doctors and patients, students and teachers, low-income families and veterans, those who have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to the pandemic and the accompanying lockdowns, those in our cities and those in the countryside—in short, all Americans—remain connected until this emergency ends."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.