Update, April 2, 2020 (1:44AM ET): We’ve updated the article with Google Fi’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. You can scroll down to the bottom of the page to find out more.
Original article, March 16, 2020 (7:29 AM ET): Coronavirus has most of us working from home, and social distancing has become the new normal. In fact, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended not holding any events or group gatherings of 50 people or more across the country.
In response to the ongoing pandemic, US cellular carriers are also stepping up to help their customers.
All American carriers are waiving off late fees for bill payments and promising uninterrupted connectivity to their customers. The move comes as a response to the “Keep Americans Connected” pledge launched last week by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. The pledge dated March 13 requests carriers to commit to the following three promises for the next 60 days:
- Don’t 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.
- Open Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.
Almost every major US-based broadband and telecom company has signed the pledge. Here’s where major carriers stand:
In line with the FCC chairman’s pledge, AT&T has promised not to terminate the service of any wireless, home phone, broadband residential, and small business customers. It will also not charge a late fee for the next 60 days and keep its public Wi-Fi hotspots open.
Additionally, all AT&T home internet wireline and fixed wireless internet customers can now use unlimited internet data. The company will also continue offering internet access for qualifying limited income households at $10 a month through its Access From AT&T program.
On its COVID-19 response page, AT&T also highlights that all its stores are open for now.
First of all, T-Mobile customers should note that the carrier has closed down all its stores inside shopping malls effective March 15. There’s no word on when these stores will reopen for business.
The company also temporarily closed approximately 80% of its retail stores across the US on March 17 until at least March 31. The 20% of remaining stores are distributed across the country, and they will operate on a reduced schedule from 10 AM to 6 PM local time. It has also reduced staffing and increased the distance between workstations at T-Mobile Care facilities, which are not open to the public.
Responding to the FCC pledge, T-Mobile has removed data caps for its customers. All current T-Mobile and Metro by T-Mobile customers can now enjoy unlimited smartphone data for 60 days (excluding roaming).
Also, the telco will soon offer 20GB of free mobile hotspot service for the next 60 days.
Besides this, subscribers who need to call their families internationally can place free calls to Level-3 impacted countries determined by the CDC.
For more details, you can head to T-Mobile’s coronavirus response page for customers here.
Verizon has also committed to the aforementioned promises in the FCC pledge for 60 days starting March 13. The company said in a statement that most of its wireless customers are on unlimited plans, and those who aren’t are encouraged to connect to Wi-Fi hotspots.
Verizon also noted that it hadn’t seen any measurable increase in data usage on any of its networks.
Meanwhile, if you find some Verizon stores closed, that’s because the carrier has decided to shut them down for some time. However, all phone and online customer support channels will remain open for now.
Like T-Mobile and Verizon, Sprint will temporarily close many of its retail stores across the nation. Approximately 71% of US stores will shut down March 17 for an undisclosed period of time. Every Sprint Express at Walgreens locations and stores within indoor malls are also closed until further notice.
The carrier strongly urges customers to visit its website or use the My Sprint mobile app for any service and sales needs. If customers need to visit a physical location, they can visit storelocator.sprint.com to find the nearest open retailer.
Sprint also announced that starting March 17, customers with international long-distance calling plans will receive complimentary international calling rates from the US to countries defined by the CDC as Level 3.
Starting March 19, Sprint customers with metered data plans will receive unlimited data per month for 60 days at no extra cost. The carrier will also provide customers with an additional 20GB of mobile hotspot data per month for 60 days.
US Cellular has also signed the Keep Americans Connected pledge. However, it has not revealed any details about waiving off data limits or providing free international calling to customers. You can access US Cellular’s COVID-19 response page here.
Mint Mobile is offering a truly great deal for people who can connect to the carrier. It is allowing both current and new customers access to free unlimited high-speed data on their phone from now until April 14. Just establish a Mint Mobile account, then download the carrier’s official app. Then, when you use 95% or more of your data allotment, just go into the Mint Mobile app and then “buy” 3GB of extra data. Mint Mobile will charge your account, but then refund your money within 24 hours. You can keep adding in additional 3GB data add-ons once your allotment runs out for free until April 14.
The Google-owned MVNO has confirmed that it’s taking a few measures to help people deal with the crisis as well (h/t: 9to5Google). For starters, the company has revealed that it’s temporarily extending the grace period for payments to 60 days. This policy went into effect from March 1, 2020.
Additionally, the Google Fi team announced that it’s temporarily increasing its limit on full data speeds to 30GB for users on both its Flexible and Unlimited plans. Google usually throttles users on the Flexible plan after 15GB, while Unlimited users normally see throttling after 22GB. This policy went into effect on April 1, 2020.
So those were all the new policies and offers announced by US carriers to make life easier during the coronavirus shut-in. What do you think of these initiatives? Do you feel carriers need to do more? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.