FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- The coronavirus pandemic has forced thousands of American students to study from home.
From homework to assignments, projects and tests, most of the country's schools and colleges are now depending on the internet to get through the school year.RELATED: Local schools turning to video calls to continue learning during COVID-19 outbreak
This has created extraordinary hurdles for low-income families left behind by the digital divide, including the millions of schoolchildren who do not have home access to broadband internet. Meanwhile, as companies are forced to lay off employees and unemployment soars, fewer people are able to pay their internet bills.
Fortunately, many internet providers have come to the rescue and changed their policies to provide support for households impacted by COVID-19.
FREE INTERNET FOR STUDENTS AND LOW-INCOME FAMILIESComcast is offering 60 days of free internet service to new low-income customers if they apply by April 30. It is also automatically increasing the speed for low-income families who are existing customers. Both these offers are part of their Internet Essentials service. To qualify for this service, low-income families must fulfil these criteria.Charter Communications, the parent company of Spectrum, announced it is offering free broadband and Wi-Fi access for 60 days to households with students through college age who don't already have a subscription. To enroll, you can call 1-844-488-8395. Installation fees will be waived for new student households.Altice USA announced that starting Monday, March 16, for households with K-12 and/or college students, they are offering their broadband internet service for free for 60 days to any new customer household 'within (their) footprint'. Cox is also offering two months of free home internet service for low-income families with K-12 children.Central Valley company Sierra Tel is setting up internet services via landline for low-income families with students in the Yosemite Unified, Bass Lake, Raymond-Knowles or Mariposa school districts.RELATED: Sierra Tel offering free internet to students amid COVID-19 crisis
NO LATE PAYMENT FEES
After agreeing to honor the FCC's Keep Americans Connected Pledge
seeking to keep the country connected amid the pandemic, dozens of internet providers announced a moratorium on late fees and disconnections during the crisis period.Verizon said if any of its customers could not pay their bill on time due to the pandemic, they could just fill in a hardship form here and the company would not charge them a late fee or disconnect their service.AT&T said it would keep service connected and waive late payment fees for postpaid wireless, home phone or broadband residential or small business customers experiencing hardship. The waiver applies to fees or charges incurred for 60 days, between March 13 and May 13. To submit a waiver request, customers can click here. Similarly, Spectrum announced on its website that it won't terminate service or charge late fees for Spectrum Internet, TV or Voice residential or small business customers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. CenturyLink too said that for the next 60 days, it is committed to waiving late fees and not terminating a residential or small business customer's service due to financial circumstances associated with COVID-19.RELATED: Coronavirus updates: List of school, college closures, cancellations and changes in Central California
FREE PUBLIC WIFI
Comcast, AT&T and Spectrum are now allowing everyone, whether they're customers or not, to access their public WiFi for free at one of their hotspots.To find a Comcast hotspot near you, click here.To find a Spectrum hotspot near you, click here.AT&T has not created a map of its hotspots, but there are thousands across the country.
NO DATA, VOICE AND TEXT OVERAGE CHARGESAT&T also said it will waive data, voice and text overage charges for wireless customers experiencing hardship. To submit a waiver request, click here.Cox is eliminating data usage overages for 60 days through May 15.
MORE/ UNLIMITED DATASprint is providing unlimited data to customers with metered data plans for 60 days, beginning March 18.T-Mobile is increasing the data allowance to schools and students using their digital learning programs.AT&T is offering schools 60 days of unlimited data for laptops, tablets, and hotspots.This story includes information from an Associated Press study about American students' access to the internet.For more news coverage on the coronavirus and COVID-19 go to ABC30.com/coronavirus