House Dems Slam ISPs for Data Caps, Price Increases During Pandemic

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House Energy & Commerce Democrats are slamming ISPs over what raising prices and imposing data caps during a pandemic, questioning their "commitment to consumers" during the pandemic.

“Over the last ten months, internet service became even more essential as many Americans were forced to transition to remote work and online school," they wrote. "Broadband networks seem to have largely withstood these massive shifts in usage. Unfortunately, what cannot be overlooked or underestimated is the extent to which families without home internet service — particularly those with school-aged children at home — have been left out and left behind.”

Also Read: Cox, Altice Extend FCC's Keep Americans Connected Pledge

Those that were doing the writing were E&C chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), Communications Subcommittee chairman Mike Doyle (D-Pa.), joined by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.).

Getting the letters were Altice, AT&T, CenturyLink (Lumen), Charter, Comcast, Cox, Frontier, T-Mobile and Verizon.

The legislators cited the fact that the companies back in March had expanded their affordable broadband offerings, opened up wi-Fi hotspots, waived data caps and took the FCC pledge to keep customers connected during the pandemic, but that since then, and following the expiration of the FCC's voluntary pledge, some of the same companies had raised prices and expanded data caps, calling that "an egregious action at a time when households and small businesses across the country need high-speed, reliable broadband more than ever but are struggling to make ends meet."

Also Read: Comcast Expands Data Cap to Full Footprint

Saying it was part of an ongoing oversight effort, the legislators want answers to the following questions:

1. "Did the company participate in the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge?

2. "Has the company increased prices for fixed or mobile consumer internet and fixed or phone service since the start of the pandemic, or do they plan to raise prices on such plans within the next six months? 

3. "Prior to March 2020, did any of the company’s service plans impose a maximum data consumption threshold on its subscribers?

4. "Since March 2020, has the company modified or imposed any new maximum data consumption thresholds on service plans, or do they plan to do so within the next six months? 

5. "Did the company stop disconnecting customers’ internet or telephone service due to their inability to pay during the pandemic? 

6. "Does the company offer a plan designed for low-income households, or a plan established in March or later to help students and families with connectivity during the pandemic?

7. "Beyond service offerings for low-income customers, what steps is the company currently taking to assist individuals and families facing financial hardship due to circumstances related to COVID-19?"

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.