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Despite pledge, some carriers are disconnecting non-paying Americans


On March 13th, the then four major U.S. wireless providers, Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint, signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge. For the 60 days starting on March 13th, the carriers agreed not to cancel the service of residential and small business customers who can not pay their bills. In addition, the companies said that they would waive late fees to these same customers and open up their Wi-Fi hotspots to anyone who needs to use them.
Since the pledge was signed, T-Mobile took control of Sprint. The other carriers that agreed to follow the pledge include U.S. Cellular, Google Fiber, Comcast, TracFone Wireless, CenturyLink, Charter, Mediacom, Atlantic Broadband, and others. But it looks as though the wireless operators are not living up to the terms of the pledge that they signed. According to NBC News, some Americans who have lost their jobs and cannot pay for wireless service are getting their lines shut down by their carriers despite promising that this wouldn’t happen. Overall, 650 wireless and internet companies signed the pledge.

U.S. carriers say that customers need to inform them ahead of time if they can’t pay their bill

Aaron Joshua Perra had to shut down his hair salon in Minneapolis last month. Sprint had initially sent him an email stating that he wouldn’t lose his wireless service at this time, so he was stunned when his handset was disconnected from Sprint’s cellular network right after his salon closed. Eventually, Sprint reconnected his phone. Still, it isn’t a good look for this industry at a time when wireless connectivity is needed more than ever to keep people working at home, updated about the pandemic, and connected to friends and family. It also allows children to be educated from home and allows doctors to safely see patients via telemedicine. A wireless connection is a must-have for most families and the carriers were hoping to keep Americans from having to decide whether to pay the mortgage, put food on the table, or stay connected.

Sprint isn’t the only carrier that failed to follow the pledge. Furniture salesman Anthony Skojec, who lives in upstate New York, was recently let go from the company he worked for. He tried to call Verizon on the phone to talk about his account but was unable to get through. So he found a store that was open (possibly a reseller since most company stores are closed) and was told by the manager that his account would not be disconnected. The following week, you guessed it, Verizon shut down Skojec’s account and demanded $360 to turn it back on. And his children, who used the same account for their mobile devices, were unable to continue with their distance learning. “I paid it from my unemployment, but it means I can’t pay anything on the mortgage,” Skojec said.

Orlando’s Bruce Cameron, who is an Uber driver, had to stop working in order to help his cancer-stricken grandmother. After receiving multiple assurances from Sprint that he would not lose his service, he was disconnected twice before Sprint reconnected him for good. T-Mobile, which now owns Sprint, says that customers need to get in touch with them if they are going to have a problem paying the bill. This is seconded by Verizon. Despite being reconnected, Cameron said that he didn’t feel that Sprint was trying to help him at all. Talking about the FCC pledge he says, “I think it’s just a public image thing. They’re realizing the longer this goes on they may not be able to fulfill that pledge, because there’s no real date in sight for when everyone can get back to normal.”

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel calls the shut-offs “unacceptable.” One of two Democrats on the five-person regulatory agency, Rosenworcel stated, “Promises made not to cut off essential communications service during this time need to be kept. The FCC needs to investigate every complaint for consumers who unfairly lose their service and help fix it fast.”

If you have had your wireless service shutdown since March 13th, you need to get in touch with your carrier. If you can’t reach them, call the FCC at 1-888-225-5322.



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