AT&T is the first of the major internet service providers (opens in new tab) to announce that it will be suspending all broadband usage data caps in response to the coronavirus pandemic that is currently sweeping the globe. While there might not be an obvious connection between unlimited internet and slowing the spread of the contagion, this move will ensure that AT&T customers are able to work from home without worrying about going over their data allowances.
In a statement given to VICE (opens in new tab), an AT&T spokesperson said that "“Many of our AT&T Internet customers already have unlimited home internet access, and we are waiving internet data overage for the remaining customers,”
AT&T’s move ensures that those who do have the capability to work from home can do so without worrying about spiralling internet bills if they go over their limits; though it does bring into question how necessary internet data caps are in the first place if they can be disabled like this during a crisis without negatively affecting the network. Proponents of data caps state they are required to help ease congestion on data networks during peak hours, while opponents argue that data caps exist primarily as a way to increase profits in our increasingly online world.
As the coronavirus spreads, more and more people are being encouraged to self-isolate and work from home where possible, but this isn’t as simple as it sounds. Many people work in service industries where this simply isn’t realistic, while others don’t have suitable working conditions in their homes. Worse still, a recent report showed that almost 42 million Americans (opens in new tab) don’t have access to broadband internet.
What about everyone else?
While it is the only company to offer a complete waver on data usage limits, AT&T is not the only internet provider to act. In a statement to VICE (opens in new tab), a Mediacom spokesperson said that “Mediacom is giving all customers on all service tiers 50GB of additional data through March 31st. We will revisit again as April approaches to see if this policy needs to be extended or changed."
If your internet service provider hasn’t lifted their data usage caps yet and you need to work from home, then the best cell phone providers (opens in new tab) might be your saving grace, at least in the short term. Many cell phone plans now have large data allowances and if you have one of the best smartphones (opens in new tab), you should be able to tether your mobile connection through to your other devices. It’s not a long-term solution and it means you’ll burn through your mobile data faster, but it’s a quick fix in the short term.