What just happened? Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai today announced a new policy intended to keep Americans online during the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. The policy, dubbed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, will aid many individuals who may soon find themselves unable to work due to direct COVID-19 infection, or collateral damage caused by the virus (such as workplace closures).

The Keep Americans Connected Pledge requires participating companies to adhere to three specific rules. Each telecom must:

  • ...not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • ...waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic.
  • ...open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

If a company agrees to sign this Pledge, they will be bound by its terms for 60 days. Pai explained the rules to multiple telecoms by phone on Thursday, and now, dozens of companies have already agreed to follow them. Some of the more notable examples include AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cox Communications, and T-Mobile.

All in all, the Keep Americans Connected Pledge is very much a pro-consumer policy. While plenty of people might take issue with some of Pai's past decisions, such as his role in the repeal of net neutrality, this Pledge should help to protect consumers during what is (and will likely continue to be) a very turbulent time for the entire country.

By blocking telecoms from penalizing users for failing to pay their bills on time, the FCC has lifted at least one burden from the shoulders of American citizens. However, as we noted before, this Pledge only applies for 60 days, and COVID-19 may stick around for much longer.