As the full scope of our coronavirus crisis started to grab everyone’s attention last week, utility companies across the nation stepped up to reassure their customers they won’t be shut off if it turns out they can’t pay their bill. Communications, power, and water will all keep flowing for at least the next two months. The industry leaders have led the way and all the others are expected to follow suit through the emergency.
Our utility lifelines won’t be cut
All the major internet providers including Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Google Fiber, Charter Communications, CenturyLink, Cox Communications, Sprint, and T-Mobile agreed “not to terminate service for subscribers for the next 60 days if they are unable to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus.” All of the internet providers “expressed confidence that U.S. networks can withstand the predicted jump in traffic.”
San Francisco based Pacific Gas and Electric, which serves 16 million customers in northern and central California “voluntarily implemented a moratorium on service disconnections for non-payment, effective immediately.” They can help their customers even more if you simply give them a call. “PG&E will offer its most flexible pay plans to customers who indicate either an impact or hardship as a result of COVID-19.”
They recognize “this is a rapidly changing situation and an uncertain time for many of our customers. Our most important responsibility is the health and safety of our customers and employees. We also want to provide some relief from the stress and financial challenges many are facing during this worldwide, public health crisis.” That is the sentiment everywhere. If you have a hardship contact your providers.
Gas and water utility companies are all jumping on the bandwagon from coast-to-coast. “For health and safety, people have to have water,” said Tom Adcock of Alco Water. “It’s an essential service and we understand people need that, and during these emergency circumstances we know people will have some hardships.” Southern California Gas announced they want to help ease their customers concerns “and continue to provide the reliable natural gas service they depend on to heat their homes and hot water and cook their food.”
In wake of #Covid_19 outbreak, telework, remote learning, and telehealth are key. We must ensure that Americans don't lose their broadband or telephone connectivity. That's why I've challenged broadband providers to take the #KeepAmericansConnected Pledge. https://t.co/bjXINd0gMY pic.twitter.com/R3cq3yZtiW
— Ajit Pai (@AjitPai) March 13, 2020
On Friday, Federal Communications Commission
Chairman Ajit Pai made a major announcement. With millions of Americans asked to work and study from home they don’t need to fear being cut off. Also, the internet can easily handle the load as it shifts from business to residential circuits.
“As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected,” Pai insists. “Broadband will enable them to communicate with their loved ones and doctors, telework, ensure their children can engage in remote learning.” He went to the communications networks and hammered out a deal.
Providers were asked to “offer low-income consumers lower-speed cheaper service to increase speeds and expand eligibility.” Comcast said sure. They are “raising its speeds for all its low-income users.” AT&T is “waiving data caps for home consumers that have plans with usage caps.”
Not only did the major carriers agree not to cut off delinquent accounts for a while, more than 50 companies “also agreed to waive any late fees residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic.” On top of that they “agreed to open Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone who needs them.” Several companies will waive data limits for a couple of months. Deals vary by provider so check with your network to see what they can arrange.
We have extended and expanded our Shut Off Moratorium in Response to COVID 19. The decision will extend the moratorium until May 31 and waive income qualifications.
Read more here: https://t.co/Ufe5xDXacX pic.twitter.com/m9ne4GpZH1
— Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority (@pgh2o) March 13, 2020
Power and water
Over on the East coast, New York and New Jersey utilities “will keep the power, heat and water on for all customers.” Michael Jennings, a spokesperson for New Jersey’s largest utility assures, “we recognize that customers may experience financial difficulty as a result of the outbreak, whether they or a family member fall ill, are required to quarantine, or because their income is otherwise affected.”
Eric Miller, with the Natural Resources Defense Council agrees. “Curtailing shut-offs is good public policy to make sure New Jersey residents aren’t left in the lurch.” Not having “a safe place to be because you don’t have electricity, gas or water doesn’t do anything to help address the coronavirus.” Utility companies in other major cities are following suit.
“Now is not the time to be worrying about late payments or bills. We need to get past this, hopefully, to see what we’re facing and then deal with other things,” New Jersey state Senator Teresa Ruiz explains.
Detroit gets extra help with water
Detroit, Michigan will get extra help with water because they had a crisis even before the pandemic broke out. “At least 141,000 Detroit households have been disconnected since 2014.” Nearly 14,000 “were still without water by mid-January 2020.”
Their running water will be temporarily restored. According to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, “the state is stepping up to cover the cost of water restoration for the first 30 days, because it’s the right thing to do to keep families safe and protect public health.”
The Detroit People’s Water Board says “we told you so.” The “unconscionable act of depriving anyone of water because the cost is more than they can afford has resulted in a health crisis.” The coronavirus outbreak, they said in February, “has the serious potential to be magnified and spread due to thousands not having access to water.” It will be fixed, at least for a while.