A Spectrum vehicle is parked outside a residence in Olmos Park.
A Spectrum vehicle sits outside a residence in Olmos Park. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

While local businesses are beginning to order employees to work from home as coronavirus concerns grow, internet providers across the country are dropping overage fees in preparation for an influx of residential users.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai on Friday introduced the Keep Americans Connected Pledge, which asks providers not to terminate service for residential or small business customers, to waive any late fees related to the virus pandemic, and to open Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them for the next 60 days.

As of Friday afternoon, many providers had already agreed to the pledge, including AT&T, Charter Communications (the parent company of Spectrum), CenturyLink, Comcast (parent company of Xfinity), Verizon, and others.

The FCC action comes the day after AT&T announced that, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is waiving internet data overage fees for any customers not already receiving unlimited home internet access.

Shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott declared a statewide public health disaster on Friday afternoon, he applauded private internet providers for “stepping up” to increase bandwidth necessary to allow large numbers of people to work remotely, according to the Texas Tribune.

With Friday’s announcement that San Antonio had its first confirmed case of COVID-19, more local residents are likely to be working from home, utilizing more bandwidth. Mayor Ron Nirenberg said the City is banning gatherings of 500 people or more and “strongly recommends” against gatherings of more than 250 people, prompting more employers to tell their workers who are able to do their jobs from home to stay away from offices.

Local Spectrum customer Jaclyn Magill said while her San Antonio workplace is still debating about whether it will ask employees to work from home, she is glad to see Charter Communications will offer its Spectrum broadband and Wi-Fi service free to households with K-12 and college students, as well as open its Wi-Fi hotspots for public use. Spectrum doesn’t have a data cap on its plans.

Melanie Tawil, CEO of San Antonio-based tech company SwipeTrack Solutions, said she told employees they should work from home for their safety starting Monday until further notice. Tawil, an AT&T internet customer, said the company’s decision to not charge overage fees is beneficial to everyone.

“Not everyone has the capabilities to [afford] an internet line that’s unlimited,” Tawil said.

An unlimited data plan for AT&T or Spectrum starts at $49.99 per month but can exceed $100 monthly with high data usage, taxes, and fees.

While Monte Vista resident Michael Taylor has an unlimited AT&T internet plan and isn’t worried about working from his home at any time, he said that’s not a luxury everyone gets.

“In an era when all essential services are now web-based – including most from our elected government – [internet access] should be more of a communication right and less of a paid-for privilege,” Taylor said. “It would be more efficient for the government to provide broadband than to build roads – and the societal benefits would increase in a greater proportion.”

The San Antonio area has over a dozen internet providers. Local providers such as New Braunfels-based Guadalupe Valley Telephone Cooperative Communications, San Marcos-based Grande Communications, Seguin-based Ranch Wireless, and Gonzales-based Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.

Lindsey Carnett covers the environment, science and utilities for the San Antonio Report. A native San Antonian, she graduated from Texas A&M University in 2016 with a degree in telecommunication media...