The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for us all and the wireless industry knows how critical connectivity has been and continues to be for Americans across the country. Our daily lives have been significantly altered, and we are all relying more on our wireless service to stay in touch with loved ones, school, work and the news.
Thanks to substantial and ongoing efforts, wireless networks performed well, and we continue to work to keep our customers connected, protect our employees, and help our communities.
Read below to learn more about how the wireless industry is responding to this unprecedented challenge.
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Wireless Keeps Americans Connected
Wireless Keeps Americans Connected
The wireless industry took all necessary steps to maintain our networks as Americans increased their reliance on wireless service to stay connected, continue learning and work from home. This trend has only continued during the course of the pandemic: mobile usage has increased around 40%, according to Ericsson.
In March 2020, in a span of one week, much of the U.S.—hundreds of millions of people—quickly transitioned from their normal lives to staying at home as much as possible. This monumental shift, occurring in just a few days, meant a widespread and rapid transformation in how Americans used their wireless devices and networks.
From March through July 2020, CTIA reported on these changes in voice and data traffic. This information drew on the work of engineers at AT&T, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular and Verizon who closely monitor their networks and make adjustments to address shifting demand.
Not only did U.S. wireless networks handle this unprecedented shift and surge in traffic last spring, but mobile wireless networks have continued to improve their performance. According to Ookla, since the onset of the pandemic, median wireless speeds have increased nearly 50%.
We know you are relying on us more than ever, and we remain ready. The U.S. wireless industry invests over $20 billion each year to meet your needs.
In the earliest days of the shutdown, recognizing the increased demand for mobile broadband, providers worked hard to increase network capacity, give consumers more mobile data, and open up public Wi-Fi hotspots. Operators announced hundreds of millions in new investment and other innovative solutions to help keep consumers connected.
T-Mobile shifted consumers on metered data plans to unlimited data plus 20GB of mobile hotspot data.
AT&T waived domestic wireless plan overage charges for data, voice or text for residential or small business wireless customers incurred because of economic hardship related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Verizon waived data overage charges for residential and small business wireless customers whose economic circumstances were impacted by COVID-19. The carrier also automatically added an additional 15GB of 4G LTE data to consumer and small business shared data plans, hotspots and jetpacks.
UScellular provided its Unlimited Everyday and Even Better Plan customers with an extra 15GB of hotspot data to adjust to shifting and varying work arrangements and waived data overage charges.
Boost Mobile automatically provided customers on tiered plans with an additional 20GBs of data on their plans and free international calling to nearly 50 countries at no extra cost.
Putting Spectrum to Work
We have also seen unprecedented efforts to put more spectrum in use to support millions of Americans working and learning from home, and applaud the FCC for moving forward so quickly to help connect more consumers.
AT&T announced access to AWS-4 and 700 MHz spectrum to better serve consumers, including in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
T-Mobile created 600 MHz roaming deals to expand capacity with DISH, Comcast, Spectrum Financial Partners and others.
UScellular gained access to AWS-3 spectrum to help meet increased customer demand for mobile broadband in 19 states.
Verizon gained access to AWS-3 spectrum to provide additional mobile broadband capacity.
Bluegrass Cellular gained access to AWS-1 spectrum to increase network capacity in Kentucky.
Union Wireless gained access to AWS-1 spectrum to expand capacity in Wyoming.
Low Income Support
Wireless providers also expanded options and increased mobile data for low-income consumers, including through their Lifeline partners and programs, during this period.
Tracfone provided all of its SafeLink Lifeline customers with data capable phones and an additional 5GB of data per month. It is also gave SafeLink customers unlimited talk and three free telehealth visits per month with a licensed healthcare professional through a partnership with Doc.com. Plan enhancements were also launched for customers on other Tracfone brands.
T-Mobile expanded Lifeline low-income access to 5GB per month, and in response to the crisis, it launched T-Mobile Connect ahead of schedule, offering consumers unlimited talk and text plus 2GB high-speed smartphone data for $15 per month.
Cellular One’s Lifeline customers received an additional 10GB of data and unlimited voice, free of charge.
Millions of children are home and we want to ensure those kids can keep learning with wireless tools and great educational resources. The wireless industry is expanding existing industry-leading efforts to connected unserved and underserved communities.
This includes the new Connecting Kids Initiative, a resource for schools and school districts to help keep kids learning in these unprecedented times. Schools districts are encouraged to submit their connectivity needs, and we will help connect them to wireless operators in their communities.
Read more about how the wireless industry is committed to connecting America’s students.
AT&T committed $10 million to support students in need with free hotspots and data plans, in partnership with nonprofit Connected Nation. They also committed more than $2M to small businesses focused on distance learning solutions and organizations supporting teachers, underwrote an online resource for eLearning Days from the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) and launched a new $10 million Distance Learning and Family Connections fund, including contributions to Kahn Academy and funding 60 free days of the Caribu app.
Verizon tripled its monthly data allowance for Verizon Innovative Learning Tier 1 middle schools and committed $10 million to nonprofits directed at supporting students and first responders. A fast track to Verizon’s national Distance Learning Program is now available to more than 38 million students across 40 states and the District of Columbia. Verizon is also helping bridge the digital divide through Citizen Verizon, the company’s responsible business plan for economic, environmental and social advancement. Citizen Verizon will help more students than ever stay connected and thrive in today’s virtual learning environment by providing 10 million young people with the digital skills training necessary for them to thrive in a modern economy.
T-Mobile launched Project 10Million, offering school districts free internet access and mobile hotspots for 10 million eligible households. The initiative also provides school districts with low-cost options and increased monthly data plans to provide connectivity to their students for free. T-Mobile also increased the data allowance to 20GB/month for free to schools and students using their EmpowerED digital learning programs.
UScellular donated over $100,000 in much needed technology to Boys & Girls Clubs of America. The donation supported 13 Clubs with a variety of technology including tablets, laptops, video production equipment, headphones and video cameras as they prepared for back to school in these unprecedented times.
Intel pledged more than $50 million in a pandemic response technology initiative to combat the disease through accelerating access to technology at the point of patient care, speeding scientific research and ensuring access to online learning for students.
In response to the disruption of education by COVID-19, Ericsson joined the UNESCO-led Global Education Coalition and launched Ericsson Educate, a digital program delivering online learning content focused on improving digital skills for students in secondary schools and universities. Ericsson also partnered with the Vermont Telephone Company and Rutland City Public Schools to equip students in rural Vermont with access to free high-speed Internet and Google Chromebooks.
In support of ongoing distance learning, Qualcomm donated 900 custom-built, cellular-connected laptops and more than $140,000 to the San Diego Unified School District. The computers run on the company’s Snapdragon processors and include built-in cellular connectivity, giving students with limited access to Wi-Fi another avenue to learn remotely.
Smith Bagley, Inc. has delivered more than 1,300 access points to 10 schools (either MiFi or smartphones as needed), with 6,600 potential more devices in the pipeline. It also introduced an unlimited data plan at a significantly reduced cost for schools.
Healthcare & Frontline Workers Support
Verizon created a “Food for Frontline Workers” program to provide meals to doctors, nurses, first responders and healthcare workers in cities across the country.
Intel pledged an additional $50 million in a pandemic response technology initiative to provide funding to accelerate access to technology for diagnosis, treatment and vaccine development of COVID-19.
Qualcomm is helping to raise $50 million in funds for Tyto Care, a telehealth company that’s expanding its remote exam and diagnosis offerings globally to help with the COVID-19 crisis.
T-Mobile donated 500,000 medical masks to the CDC Foundation for #GivingTuesdayNow to keep health care workers safe on the frontlines of COVID-19.
AT&T offered America’s first responders free, First-Net ready devices and contributed $5.5 million to support organizations that are providing nourishing meals to first responders, medical staff and others in need.
Samsung launched its Free Repairs for the Frontline initiative, a program to provide free phone repairs and battery replacements for healthcare workers and first responders.
Nokia helped supply critical protective equipment, like face shields, and donate supplies for medical staff around the world.
Scammers have taken advantage of the feeling of global uncertainty and are increasingly sending malicious emails, calls and texts about COVID-19. During this crisis, the wireless industry will continue to fight to protect consumers and their data from bad actors, and we encourage consumers to do the same.
When scams hit close to home, how can you and your family avoid falling victim? Simply put—whether via call, text or email, do not give personal information to anyone you don’t know.
Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself and those close to you from COVID-19-related scams:
- Be wary of unsolicited offers for vaccinations or other treatments. Vaccine information may be communicated via phone, text, or email, but be careful with offers from someone you don’t know.
- Do not share personal or financial information via email, text or over the phone, and visit only trusted websites to stay informed, apply for aid or donate money.
- Remember that no government agency, including the Treasury Department, will call or text to ask for your personal information to send a stimulus or relief check.
- To make charitable donations, go directly to the organization’s official website or use a trusted short code campaign.
- Websites like cdc.gov/coronavirus, coronavirus.gov and usa.gov/coronavirus have helpful information.
- Do not click on text or email links that seem suspicious or are from sources you don’t know.
- Report suspected spam to your carrier, the FTC and/or the FCC.
- And if you think you’ve been a victim of a scam, report the activity to local law enforcement immediately and take steps to protect your data.
Wireless providers are supporting our public safety officials and mitigating risks for employees through actions like implementing remote working when possible and providing additional paid time off for sickness or caregiving. AT&T and Verizon also announced increased pay and other enhancements for those employees on the front lines.
AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon partnered with iHeartMedia to deliver thousands of phone chargers to hospitals so that COVID-19 patients could charge their phones.
Nokia helped supply critical protective equipment, like face shields, and donated supplies for medical staff around the world.
As of March 4, 2021, more than 570 Wireless Emergency Alerts have been issued to provide consumers with critical information related to COVID-19.
Cleaning Wireless Devices. If you are concerned about the cleanliness of your device, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides recommendations for cleaning high-touch surfaces such as phones and other mobile devices. Apple, Google and Samsung also provide instructions for how to safely disinfect their products, and consumers should check their user’s manuals for care and cleaning instructions.
Discounted Service. Wireless service is a vital tool, particularly during emergencies. Consumers who are concerned about affording wireless service during this time should determine whether they are eligible for the FCC’s Lifeline or state programs that provide discounts.
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