KEY POINTS

  • AT&T will be lifting broadband data caps to all customers for better internet access, regardless of current plans
  • Comcast will start offering 60 days of its Internet Essentials service to new customers in low-income homes starting on March 16
  • Several U.S. senators sent an open letter to other internet service providers to life price and data caps because of the spread of COVID-19

Internet providers AT&T and Comcast said Friday they were lifting certain data caps and fees to provide better internet access to customers in the U.S. affected by the coronavirus.

AT&T told Vice it would be suspending broadband data caps to all of its customers in the U.S. This change will open up internet access to anyone using AT&T that may not already have unlimited internet access. It did not say how long the data caps will be suspended to its customers.

“Many of our AT&T internet customers already have unlimited home internet access, and we are waiving internet data overage for the remaining customers,” an AT&T spokesperson said.

Comcast followed up on AT&T’s announcement, saying it would be easing its own policies on internet access.

Any new customers that live in low-income homes will qualify for 60 days of Comcast’s Internet Essentials service, starting on March 16. This is typically offered to homes that qualify for public-assistance programs like Medicaid, Housing Assistance, or the National School Lunch Program and costs $9.95 a month. Comcast will also increase internet speeds for homes using the Internet Essentials service.

“Our hope is that broader access and faster speeds will help all of our Internet Essentials customers more easily work from home, access educational resources, obtain important government healthcare alerts, and stay in contact with their families during this difficult time,” Comcast Cable's President of Consumer Services Dana Strong told Variety.

Comcast and AT&T’s changes come on the heels of several U.S. senators asking internet service providers to suspend practices critics have pointed to as a means of gouging customers’ wallets. These include artificial caps on data usage and overage fees that experts said serve no real purpose other than being a “glorified price hike.”

The senators sent an open letter to several major ISPs, including AT&T and Comcast, saying:

“As organizations around the country formulate their responses to the recent outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, we write to discuss the steps that your company is taking to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services. Specifically, we ask that you temporarily suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by COVID-19 and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost, broadband options for students whose schools close due to COVID-19 who don’t have access at home.”