Verizon's Response Team mobilizing in several sectors to ramp up communication during pandemic

Telecom provider is helping hospitals, government, and schools across the country stay connected during the coronavirus crisis.

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Verizon's Response Team is currently leading nearly 160 initiatives around the country and is working with public and private healthcare systems to deploy mobile cell sites, Wi-Fi hotspots, free charging stations and other solutions to help boost network performance and enable communications. In New York, in particular, which has been deemed the epicenter of the new COVID-19 coronavirus, the work has taken on a "very different level of urgency," said Maggie Hallbach, vice president of state, local and education markets at Verizon.

On Thursday, the company announced several initiatives to help serve customers during the COVID-19 crisis. They include waiving overage charges and late fees to support customers who might be financially impacted by the pandemic. First responders are being given priority and preemption abilities for voice and data, Verizon said.

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Healthcare connectivity

Mobile operations are being erected along with makeshift hospitals to enable connectivity for public health and first responder agencies, the company said. Verizon is working with healthcare organizations to enable connectivity at multiple federal, state and local mobile command centers.

New York "is handling [the pandemic] in a very organized and measured way," Hallbach said. For example, the state has been utilizing some state parks for "a variety of support structures," she said.

Verizon's mobile assets are being used to support connectivity and infrastructure "where you wouldn't traditionally see emergency facilities or hospitals pop up," she said. 

"It's all about making sure clinicians have in their hands technology they need to … do their work everywhere. Our job is to make sure they have access to their enterprise applications even when they're not in a traditional hospital."

The provider is also continuing to install permanent fiber infrastructure around the country for 5G and 4G, Hallbach said. Earlier in March, Verizon announced the company is increasing its capital investment guidance from $17 billion to $18 billion to $17.5 billion to $18.5 billion in 2020.

Education internet access and learning support

In the education sector, she said Verizon is seeing school districts across the country in varying states of preparation to meet their mission of delivering curriculum and pedagogy. "Some are more prepared for distance learning than others, so we're tuning our support posture to meet customers where they are in capacity," Hallbach said.

Verizon has had longstanding relationships to support the underserved in education, she said. The company provides technology not only for internet access but courseware and profess development to support learning in some Title 1 schools, Hallbach said.

Among the districts Verizon is working with is the Los Angeles Unified School District to provide internet connectivity for students who don't have Internet access at home.

Government call centers and hotlines

Verizon is adding conference lines that help health and government teams work remotely right now, Hallbach said. "We're helping multiple governments manage incoming calls, either adding capacity or helping with integrated voice response systems."

For example, the company provided access for a COVID-19 hotline for one state's department of health. Verizon is also supporting another state's call center platform within the Department of Labor to help with skyrocketing unemployment claims calls, she said.

Verizon offers a variety of different conferencing capabilities from traditional audio conferencing to more robust video conferences and "fully attended conferencing capabilities," she said. There have been instances where a governor has needed to meet with key legislators and cabinet members or to discuss emergency response in coordination with the federal Department of Health and Human Services and FEMA, all via a curated conference call to exercise appropriate social distancing, Hallbach said.

Curated calls are operator attended, which means the operator can take questions for the governor, for example. Verizon's platform "supports many different use cases for our public sector customers as they are mobilizing…organizing and communicating with each other or key constituents," she said. "Verizon stands ready to support public sector customers when they need us, and we want to ensure they get the support they need. Communication right now is critical."
 
 

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A Verizon Response unit at Jones Beach.

Image: Verizon