During the coronavirus outbreak across the US, it's clear that not everyone will be able to pay their bills on time and this includes their phone service. Luckily, Chairman Pai of the FCC has asked carriers and internet providers across the nation to pledge to keep people connected, even if they are unable to pay their bills.
If you are thinking this means free phone and internet service, it does not. These are programs to help people that might not be able to pay right away. You'll still need to pay the total amount before everything is said and done.
Which carriers are waiving fees?
A large list of internet providers including some of the largest in the nation have signed on to keep service active for people that may need some extra time to pay their bills. On the phone side, this includes all major carriers including AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon Wireless.
All of these carriers have signed on to waive fees and not to disconnect customers that cannot pay their bills for 60 days. While sticking needy people with late fees during a crisis is certainly bad publicity, there are a lot of complex systems at work here and mistakes can happen. Make sure to get in contact with your carrier to make sure you get your fees waived before missing that payment.
Which customers does it impact?
According to the Keep Americans Connected Pledge that these carriers have signed, any residential or small business customers are protected from late fees or service cancellation due to nonpayment for 60 days. This includes all of the major wireless carriers and some MVNOs. If you are unsure you can check the website for your specific carrier or call customer support.
How long does it last?
For now, the somewhat vague commitment is 60 days. It's worth noting that the major carriers signed the pledge less than 24 hours after Chairman Pai's call so it's safe to say for now that you will have 60 days from the signing on March 13, 2020, at least. So far there haven't been any extensions to the timeline but these companies are responding to coronavirus in other ways including closing many stores.
Is my bill suspended or do I need to catch up?
One important thing to remember is that your bill isn't suspended and you aren't getting free service. You are still responsible for paying for your service. Just because you are not being charged a late fee and your services are protected from cancellation doesn't mean your billing date is changing or that the number of payments you need to make on a device is changing.
If money is tight and you can't pay, you need to keep in mind that once this protection has passed, you will need to resume your normal payments on your normal due dates. If you've put off paying your bills for the entire 60 days, you'll have to pay for all of it and that can add up very quickly.
I can't pay right now. What do I need to do?
If you are going to miss the due dates for your bills, you need to plan ahead as much as possible and get in contact with your carrier. Even with the commitment, it's possible some things can slip through the cracks. You need to get in contact with your carrier to ensure your service will remain active and you will need more time for your bill.
As Android Police notes, it can be much more difficult to handle problems like this after the fact and some employees may fail to understand this policy right off the bat. It's important you do what you can to protect yourself from a prolonged and stressful negotiating with a confused billing department rep.
How do I get in touch with my carriers?
Some stores will remain open, mostly with reduced hours, but your best bet is to call support or get in contact with online chat.
Call customer service at 800-331-0500 from any line or dial 611 from your AT&T mobile phone.
Call customer service at 844-764-8361 from any line or dial *2 or 611 from your Sprint phone.
Call customer service at 800-937-8997 from any line or dial 611 from your T-Mobile Phone.
Call customer service at 888-944-9400 from any line or dial 611 on your U.S. Cellular phone.
Call customer service at 800-922-0204 from any line or dial 611 from your Verizon Wireless phone.
Are the stores closing?
Some stores will remain open for the time being but customers are highly encouraged to shop online or by phone instead of coming into the store. If you absolutely need to go into a store, be sure to call first to make sure that the store is open since most of the stores that are still open are closing earlier than normal.
If you can get it done on the phone or online, please do so.
What else are carriers doing?
As noted by Android Police, Sprint and T-Mobile are waiving fees for international calls to Level 3 countries. Sprint customers will also be able to roam on T-Mobile's network at no additional fee to improve coverage.
T-Mobile is also giving unlimited data to customers with limited plans as well as giving customers an additional 20GB of hotspot data to its unlimited customers. T-Mobile's Lifeline customers will be given an additional 5GB of data per month. Students using the EmpowerED program will be guaranteed at least 20GB of data per month.
Similarly, Sprint is giving 20GB of hotspot data to all customers and customers in the 1Million Project will get an additional 10GB of hotspot data until June 30.
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