AT&T waives broadband data caps amid coronavirus, reminds us that data caps are stupid

(Image credit: Pixabay (TooMuchCoffeeMan))

Telecommuting is becoming an increasingly popular option as more confirmed cases of the coronavirus come to light, and as such, two of the five FCC commissioners in the US are urging ISPs to suspend data caps for two months. Likewise, 17 US Senators issued a letter to ISPs at large (PDF) imploring them to "suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by COVID-19. So far, only AT&T has announced plans lift its data caps.

"In light of the number of Americans who will be telecommuting, using telemedicine, attending classes online, and otherwise using the internet more, I am calling on broadband providers to waive data caps in affected communities for the next 60 days. This tailored approach will no doubt cost telecom companies, but it recognizes the urgency of the moment. Action by wireless providers is especially critical because 26 percent of low-income Americans have a smartphone, but not broadband at home," FCC Democrat Geoffrey Starks told Ars Technica.

Another FCC Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel, shared a similar sentiment saying the FCC intends to exploring various options, such as "relaxing things like data caps and fees."

"Government and private industry need to rise to the this challenge and do the right thing. The time to act is now," Rosenworcel said.

An AT&T spokesperson told Vice that the ISP's customers "already have unlimited home internet access, and we are waiving internet data overage for the remaining customers."

Quite frankly, broadband data caps feel like an archaic concept that should be shuttled altogether, regardless of whether there is a health pandemic or not. Unfortunately, they still exist at some ISPs, though the level of enforcement and penalties vary.

AT&T's website indicates it normally imposes data caps of 150GB per month for customers with DSL service, 250GB per month for customers with fixed wireless internet service, and 1TB per month for internet speed tiers "up to and including 768Kbps through 300Mbps."

"As data usage exceeds the additional allowance in a single bill cycle, you’ll receive another 50GB of data for $10 up to a maximum monthly overage charge of $100 for AT&T internet or $200 for DSL and fixed wireless internet," AT&T's policy states.

I hope other ISPs will eventually follow suit, but that's not a given. Comcast, for example, announced it is bumping speeds for its low-cost Essentials service from 15Mbps/2Mbps (down/up) to 25Mbps/3Mbps for new and existing customers, and is giving new Essentials customers 60 days of free service. However, it has not said anything about data caps yet.

Meanwhile, Cox also issued a statement related to the coronavirus as well, but has not yet waived data caps. The company told Ars Technica to expect another update soon, saying "students and remote works are top of mind as we consider policy service changes across the board."

Paul Lilly

Paul has been playing PC games and raking his knuckles on computer hardware since the Commodore 64. He does not have any tattoos, but thinks it would be cool to get one that reads LOAD"*",8,1. In his off time, he rides motorcycles and wrestles alligators (only one of those is true).