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Wireless carriers are breaking the promise not to cancel people’s service

April 19th, 2020 at 2:35 PM
Coronavirus impact
  • Last month, the major wireless carriers signed on to the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge, which promised no service disconnections for 60 days if consumers are having trouble paying their bills.
  • It was a reasonable pledge, given how much of a catastrophic impact the COVID-19 coronavirus has had on the US economy. 
  • However, some carriers are apparently still disconnecting customers anyway. 
  • Visit BGR’s homepage for more stories.

Anthony Skojec, a furniture salesman who lives in New York who was recently furloughed from his job, got an unpleasant surprise a few days ago: His cell phone service (through Verizon) had been disconnected, and the carrier told him he’d have to pay $360 right away to get it turned back on.

Skojec went ahead and paid the money, but he had to dip into his unemployment financial assistance to do so. Which means “I can’t pay anything on the mortgage,” he told an NBC News reporter. Making matters worse when his own service was disconnected was the fact that his children’s phones and broadband connections — which they’ve depended on for remote learning during the coronavirus pandemic — were also turned off.

Here’s the bigger issue: Skojec says he’d first gone to Verizon and explained his situation, to which a manager replied with a reassurance that his cell phone service would remain as-is. Disconnecting it not only went against that, however — it also seemingly flouted the Keep Americans Connected pledge from Verizon, along with AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint (prior to the latter two completing their merger) that entailed the carriers promising not to disconnect customer service for 60 days, starting March 13.

The promise was extended to both residential and small business service if customers ran into trouble paying their bills — an admirable pledge, given that several million new Americans are out of work right now as a result of the coronavirus’ impact on the economy. Moreover, the major carriers signing on to this pledge from the FCC also said they would waive late fees and allow anyone to access their Wi-Fi hotspots.

When questioned about situations like Skojec’s, a Verizon spokesman suggested there’s a bit of nuance behind the pledge. The carriers apparently will still disconnect some customers, it seems, and the way to avoid that is by proactively communicating about your situation with them first.

“Keep in mind customers need to proactively reach out to us to seek relief, and if any customer feels the system isn’t working, we encourage them to call us to try and work it out,” the spokesperson told NBC News, which also doesn’t explain why it didn’t work when Skojec first went that route.

A list of all the companies that signed the Keep Americans Connected pledge can be viewed here. Uber driver Bryce Cameron, of Orlando, is another such consumer who’s recently had his service disconnected — twice — by Sprint, which has reconnected him. Sprint’s new owner, T-Mobile (like Verizon) says customers need to let them know about problems paying their bills first.

“I think it’s just a public image thing,” Cameron told NBC News about the Keep Americans Connected pledge. “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.”

Andy is a reporter in Memphis who also contributes to outlets like Fast Company and The Guardian. When he’s not writing about technology, he can be found hunched protectively over his burgeoning collection of vinyl, as well as nursing his Whovianism and bingeing on a variety of TV shows you probably don’t like.

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