As schools, stores and restaurants temporarily shut down to limit the spread of COVID-19, millions of people across the country are starting to rely heavily on broadband internet to continue their daily activities.

Thankfully, more than 500 broadband and wireless companies have banded together under the Federal Communications Commission’s new Keep Americans Connected pledge, recognizing that access to broadband is necessary for social and economic reasons during the outbreak. As part of the pledge, they’ve promised:

  • not to terminate services due to missed or late payments related to COVID-19
  • late fees will be waived
  • free access to WiFi hotspots nationwide. 

“Broadband will enable people 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,” Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said in a news release. 

Why internet access is essential during a pandemic — and after

With the global push to socially distance during this time, the pandemic brings up a larger question: Is access to broadband essential to perform everyday tasks? Lara Fishbane, senior research assistant with the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, says the COVID-19 outbreak highlights how important it is to have broadband in the modern world, particularly since a recent Brookings study demonstrated how high poverty levels coincide with low internet access.

“Without the internet, people would not only have access to jobs, information but also their entire social network,” Fishbane said. “Those are things that are important after the coronavirus, too.”

These pledges from internet providers may be the next step toward greater adoption in communities that may struggle to afford the cost of broadband.

In an ideal world, it should be easier than ever to access everything we need from home: school, work, exercise and social life. However, according to the FCC’s latest deployment report, 94% of Americans have broadband access in their area, which leaves roughly 21.3 million people across the country without broadband access. 

Fishbane was optimistic that society is learning from this experience. “Many people have tried to say broadband is a luxury good, and if this doesn’t prove that broadband is essential and something that everybody should have access to, then I don’t know what will. But I hope that it’s making that case right now.”

A few ISPs going the extra mile

Faced with the ongoing health crisis, dozens of broadband companies have established additional initiatives to temporarily expand broadband access — on top of their pledge to the FCC. 

Comcast is improving its Internet Essentials package, for example, which provides broadband to low-income households for $9.95 per month. New qualifying customers can sign up for free for 60 days, and download speeds for this package will be 25 Mbps from now on, up from 15 Mbps.

For K-12 students and college students who don’t have internet access, Charter is offering free Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi for the next two months. Charter said installation fees will be waived with this temporary offer.