Coronavirus: Politicians warn that working from home could lead to problems amid ‘unprecedented reliance’ on internet

Workers could be hit by fees and have speeds throttled as they use home internet connections

Andrew Griffin
Friday 13 March 2020 17:37
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A man wears a face mask as he walks inside Grand Central Station on March 8, 2020 in New York City
A man wears a face mask as he walks inside Grand Central Station on March 8, 2020 in New York City

People could be hit by unexpected caps and fees as they work at home to avoid spreading coronavirus, politicians have noted.

A group of US senators has written to the bosses of eight of the biggest internet service providers asking how the companies plan to avoid punishment for those people who have been forced to work from home and use more data on their internet connections as a result.

They note that the US, as other countries, is likely to see an "unprecedented reliance" on internet services and that it could lead to financial distress for people on limited internet connections.

To help with those problems, politicians have caused on those companies to lift caps and the associated fees that come with them. Many people are on home internet packages that offer only a limit number of gigabytes – and can charge considerable fees for even small amounts of data over that limit.

The letter also notes that many people are likely to be hit by "throttling", which happens when users go over data limits and internet companies restrict the speed at which they can download data.

They also ask that internet companies work with other people such as students who may need internet connections but do not have access to one.

“As organizations around the country formulate their responses to the recent outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, we write to discuss the steps that your company is taking to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services,” the letter reads.

“Specifically, we ask that you temporarily suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by COVID-19 and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost, broadband options for students whose schools close due to COVID-19 who don’t have access at home.”

AT&T has already committed to waive data caps, according to a report from Motherboard. “Many of our AT&T Internet customers already have unlimited home internet access, and we are waiving internet data overage for the remaining customers," it said in a statement to the site.

Many companies across the US and beyond are sending workers home as part of a broader attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus. It has also led to the cancellation of major events across the world, lockdowns in many countries, and a ban on travelling from parts of Europe to the US.

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