With millions of people preparing to hunker down in their homes because of the coronavirus pandemic, some companies are extending help for those in search of free digital solutions.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced significant parts of the US into an unprecedented situation where millions will need to work, study and teach all from home. For millions of people, this will be nearly impossible without Wi-Fi and other digital services that they either cannot afford or cannot access. More than a few companies are stepping up to help communities in need, offering free services that people can use to access the internet.
On Friday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge after speaking with dozens of broadband and telephone service providers and trade associations. More than 70 major companies have already agreed to the pledge, including providers like Comcast and Google Fiber as well as T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and AT&T.
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The effort includes pledges to not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills, the waiving of any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic and open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them
"As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected. Broadband will enable them to communicate with their loved ones and doctors, telework, ensure their children can engage in remote learning, and—importantly—take part in the 'social distancing' that will be so critical to limiting the spread of this novel coronavirus," said Pai.
"That's why I'm asking all broadband and telephone service providers to take the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. I don't want any American consumers experiencing hardships because of the pandemic to lose connectivity. "I applaud those companies that have already taken the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. They are stepping up to the plate and taking critical steps that will make it easier for Americans to stay connected during this pandemic and maintain much-needed social distancing. I urge other companies to join them. This may be a difficult time for our nation, but if we all work together, I am confident that we can rise to the challenge."
Comcast, AT&T and Charter Communications all announced that they are offering free public Wi-Fi for all for 60 days, with Charter specifically opening up free broadband offers for households without subscriptions and children up to college age.
Congress has called for more internet providers to offer free internet to those in need, but some have been slow to react. Verizon has not offered any free options but they have said they will not collect late fees and will not disconnect those who can't pay right now. Cox Communications released a statement saying they would increase the speed available for their low-cost broadband customers.
Sprint and T-Mobile said they would provide unlimited data on devices for up to 60 days, with T-Mobile offering even more data for students using their smartphones for school assignments. Both Comcast and AT&T have removed data caps as well.
Pai also criticized companies for not increasing broadband speeds to 25/3 Mbps and expanding eligibility, urging more providers to take additional steps to ensure that Americans, especially low-income American families and veterans, have access to the internet. He also called on more companies to relax their data cap policies, waive long-distance or overage fees and work with schools and libraries to help them handle the influx of students learning from home.
In addition to helping schools and libraries, Pai said in his statement that companies had to work with hospitals and healthcare providers to prioritize the connectivity needs of those on the frontlines of the effort to battle the spread of coronavirus.
Other free services
In addition to major providers offering free services and reduced costs, other companies are offering a variety of solutions for free to help people with their digital needs.
Minim, an AI-driven smart home security and managed Wi-Fi platform, announced an offer of four months of free services. The platform is designed to help remote workers co-manage their network with their employer so they can run speed tests, check device signal strength, get automated network recommendations, see a timeline of network events and review security scans.
Support.com, a remote tech support company, announced a free month of tech support and TechSee, a remote video support solution, said it was now providing European organizations with free access to its Visual Assistance platform to enable uninterrupted service. TechSee uses AR to visually guide customers through issue resolution using AR annotations on their mobile screen.
The solution is available free of charge for 90 days in Italy, Germany, Austria, Spain and France, to emergency response units, public health, medical and safety bodies, nonprofit organizations and providers of essential public services.
Lifesize is offering free use of its cloud video conferencing service for six months to companies around the world, with no limits on the number of hosts they can add, number of meetings they can hold or the length of those meetings. Lifesize customers can also add as many full-featured users as they want to their accounts, free of additional charge beyond what they are already paying.
Cloud-based enterprise-class unified communications and collaboration company CallTower is providing its users with Microsoft Teams Direct licenses at no cost to meet workforce demand for collaboration due to coronavirus. They are offering 90-days of free Teams Direct Routing.
1Password is also helping customers with six months of its password manager at no cost and GreatHorn, a cloud email security provider, is offering 60 days of free, unrestricted access to the GreatHorn Email Security platform.
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