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Merkley, Wyden, colleagues urge Internet Service Providers expand access to the Internet during coronavirus outbreak

PMG FILE PHOTO - Senators have called on ISPs to make it cheaper for workers and students to work from home using the Internet.

Oregon's U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today joined 17 of their Senate colleagues in sending a letter to the CEOs of eight major internet service providers (ISPs).

They are calling on the companies to accommodate the unprecedented reliance America will likely have on internet-supported services — including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services — in the coming days.

"As organizations around the country formulate their responses to the recent outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, we write to discuss the steps that your company is taking to accommodate the unprecedented reliance we will likely see on telepresence services, including telework, online education, telehealth, and remote support services," the Senators wrote. "Specifically, we ask that you temporarily suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by COVID-19 and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost, broadband options for students whose schools close due to COVID-19 who don't have access at home."

In the letter, sent to the CEOs of AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon, the Senators called on companies to suspend restrictions and fees that could limit telepresence options. With disruptions likely to reveal the full extent of the nation's broadband gaps, they also called on the companies to provide free or at-cost broadband options for students affected by the virus who otherwise lack broadband access for online learning during the outbreak. According to some estimates, nearly one-third of American households lack meaningful broadband access, and nearly 12 million children live in homes that lack broadband connection. This digital divide is especially acute for rural Americans, American communities of color, and economically disadvantaged communities.

"No one should be penalized or suffer financial duress for following guidance from the CDC, their employer, local public health officials, or school leaders. Unfortunately, many Americans are subject to restrictive data caps for their home broadband service — caps that could be particularly onerous given the more intensive broadband usage of households practicing social distancing measures and the economic uncertainty for which too many people without paid sick leave are already bracing," the Senators continued. "While it's likely that your networks will experience significantly greater traffic as a consequence of social distancing measures, we encourage you to forebear from application of broadband caps and associated fees or throttling as workers and families cope with the effects of this health emergency."

The novel coronavirus has sickened more than 113,000 people around the world and killed more than 4,000 people to date.

In addition to Merkley and Wyden, the letter was signed by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Patty Murray (D-WA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jack Reed (D-RI), Ed Markey (D-MA), and Gary Peters (D-MI).

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