Cellular carriers have earned many negative impressions over the years for poor billing practices, unfair contracts, and some dubious attempts to insert themselves where they might not belong; but there’s no denying that they have a good track record for giving a little back in times of crisis. In light of the spread of COVID-19, which has now been upgraded to a global pandemic, carriers in the US are committing to give more data to subscribers and relax their billing practices so people can focus on more important things.
Earlier today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai released a letter encouraging providers of broadband and telephone services to join the Pledge. The terms ask that companies commit to keeping service active for residential and small business users, waive fees for late payments, and open up Wi-Fi access to anybody that might need it. At the time of publication, 90 companies had committed to the pledge. The letter goes on to say that it’s important to keep people connected during a time when people will naturally distance themselves from each other.
The Keep Americans Connected Pledge reads as follows:
Given the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on American society, [[Company Name]] pledges for the next 60 days to:
- 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;
- Waive 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.
Announcements from AT&T, Verizon Wireless, and Sprint follow the terms pretty directly by waiving late fees and maintaining accounts for residential and small business customers for the next 60 days. US Cellular also appears on the list of pledges published by the FCC, but no official announcements have been made and its COVID-19 page doesn’t currently mention making any changes.
T-Mobile has gone above and beyond the call with several additional steps to help out its customers for the next 60 days. Anybody with a limited data plan on T-Mobile or Metro will automatically get unlimited smartphone data (excluding roaming), and mobile hotspot / tethering users will get an additional 20GB (Note: the hotspot portion is described as, “coming soon,” but doesn’t specify what that means). T-Mobile’s low-income program, Lifeline, will give an additional 5GB per month. And schools and students with service through the EmpowerED program will be guaranteed at least 20GB of data per month. T-Mobile and Metro customers will also have free international calling to Level 3 impacted countries, which includes much of Europe.
Carriers are also encouraging the use of their online portals and apps to carry out shopping and customer service needs wherever possible, and taking precautions with your phone and any personal interactions at stores.
Verizon announced in a press release that it will be closing some physical Verizon stores, but all phone and online support channels will still be available:
Last week, we implemented a work-from-home strategy and are now rapidly expanding it to include more members of our team.
As part of our next phase, we are reducing the number of Verizon stores that remain open. However, our customers can still get the support and services they need 24/7 by visiting verizonwireless.com/support/, calling 800.922.0204 or using the MyVerizon app.
Mint Mobile free unlimited data
Mint Mobile has decided to give out free unlimited data for all current and new subscribers through April 14. To take advantage of the deal, you need to install the most recent version of Mint Mobile’s app. Once you got that, head to Account, Buy more data, and choose the 3GB add-on. The checkout page will say that you have to pay $20, which will indeed be charged from your credit or bank card, but the expense will be refunded as soon as possible. Once you’ve used up these 3GB, you can repeat the process as often as you need to through April 14.
Repeat these four steps for unlimited data.
This option is also available on Mint’s website, and you don’t need to be an existing customer to take advantage of it — you can purchase a plan today and add the batches of unlimited data as you approach your limit. Keep in mind that once you’ve added a 3GB package, you’ll need to use up 95% of it before you can add the next add-on.
Sprint is enacting service additions for customers similar to what its imminent merger partner, T-Mobile, is offering. This includes free calls to CDC-designated Level 3 countries for those on long distance plans and unlimited high-speed data and 20GB of hotspot data to all customers over the next 60 days. Low-income families participating in the 1Million Project will get an additional 10GB of hotspot data per month, raising the total allotment to 20GB until June 30. The company also intends to ensure procurement of more than 100,000 devices for e-learning in time for the next school year.
In addition, T-Mobile is also giving Sprint customers free roaming access on its network for the next 60 days.
Verizon boosts data allowances
Verizon has announced that it will give wireless customers 15GB of high-speed data to use. For those already on an unlimited plan, that data will be in the form of a hotspot allowance. Those that aren’t will get the data added to their existing bucket. Standalone hotspot plans are also getting the boost.
The company specifies that this mandate applies to wireless plans created in 2015 or later — this includes customers on any of these older plans:
- More Everything
- Verizon Plan 1.0
- Verizon Plan 2.0
- Verizon Unlimited Plan
- New Verizon Plan for Business
- Flexible Business
On the wireline side, low-income subscribers on Lifeline will have the next two months of broadband and voice service for free. From April 3, they will also be able to select a Mix & Match plan and get $20 off their monthly rate. After discount, a 200Mbps plan is $20 per month, a 400Mbps plan is $40 per month, and a Gigabit Connection (with router included) is $60 per month. This also includes a year of Disney+ for free.
AT&T and Cricket, T-Mobile offers
AT&T Prepaid and Cricket Wireless are offering 10GB data bonuses to prepaid customers from March 27. They’ll also launch a 2GB plan with unlimited talk, text, and low-speed data for $15 per month — it’ll be available for a limited time. More details are available here.
T-Mobile has also launched its T-Mobile Connect plans that were originally part of a package of sweeteners to convince regulators to approve its merger with Sprint. They offer unlimited talk and text and either 2GB or 5GB of high-speed data for $15 or $25 per month. Customers who stay on these plans can get an extra 500MB to their monthly allowance every 12 months for 5 years. However, these plans do not include unlimited throttled data — once the bucket dries up, customers will need to buy a data pass. Metro by T-Mobile is offering a similar plan. but with the $15 rate on a limited-time basis. Details here.