AT&T Brings Back Data Caps After Taking COVID-19 Pledge

By Nadia Dreid
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Law360 (January 8, 2021, 7:49 PM EST) -- AT&T is back to enforcing data caps on its customers in the new year, after taking the Federal Communications Commission's pledge to ease up on service cutoffs and restrictions in order to help homes stay connected as the coronavirus pandemic kept people indoors.

While the original pledge laid out by the FCC, dubbed the "Keep Americans Connected" pledge, expired at the end of June, many service providers voluntarily agreed to keep some of their coronavirus policies in place or replace them with new ones also aimed at helping those who are struggling.

In September, AT&T revealed it would be extending its unlimited data cap program through the end of the year, which removes data caps for household internet users with speeds lower than 100 mbps. The promise was aimed specifically at students doing at-home learning and families on government assistance. The telecom behemoth has defended the move in the past by saying that households rarely go over the 1 terabyte ceiling it planned to put back in place.

An AT&T spokesperson said Monday that the company still offers most of its customers unlimited data "in a number of ways, including if they bundle multiple products or have a high-speed fiber plan" and that families who qualify for reduced cost internet will still have unlimited data through the summer.

"We waived home Internet data overage charges temporarily to assist tens of thousands of customers who experienced economic hardships due to the COVID-19 pandemic," the company said. "Like others in the industry, we have monthly data allowances for our internet products with more limited capacity to help keep internet service affordable as data-rich internet traffic continues to increase."

The FCC has praised companies like AT&T for going "above and beyond the call" to help Americans keep their service going during the pandemic by extending its pledge beyond the June end date that the agency proposed.

The pledge — which was completely voluntary — asked phone and internet service providers to do three things: to stop service cutoffs for people who were unable to pay due to the pandemic, to provide hotspots to anyone who needed them and to waive any late fees incurred due to hardship tied to the pandemic.

But as telecom giants begin easing up on the policies they put in place in the spring and summer as the pandemic began to change the work and school life of the average American, critics argued they were pulling much-needed help at the worst possible time.

More than 4,000 people died from coronavirus across the United States on Thursday, surpassing the previous record set just the day before, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

On the same day, more than 275,000 tested positive for the virus that has taken the lives of at least 370,000 people across the country.

--Editing by Breda Lund.

Update: This story has been updated to provide comment from AT&T and more information about the company's policies. 

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