A survey of Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) members shows some of them have taken a significant hit when it comes to keeping customers connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Citing Congressional debate on compensation for companies that stayed open during the COVID-19 pandemic, WISPA said it conducted an informal survey of its 800 WISPA members on June 23 to gauge the effects on those that took the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected pledge or adhered to it voluntarily.
The costs to each of them for non-paying accounts was about $25,000 over the duration of the pledge, which ends June 30. That’s a pretty big hit considering the average member has about 1,500 subscribers, according to a WISPA spokesman.
Besides not terminating services due to customers’ inability to pay, service providers taking the pledge agreed to waive any late fees due to COVID-19 and to open their Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needed them.
For WISPA’s members, the average in late fees not collected was $3,200, which in normal times would have been collected. The donations of free Wi-Fi or other broadband connectivity provided to individuals or the community averaged over $4,500.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who asked service providers to take the pledge starting in March (PDF), has acknowledged that it’s taken its toll on some companies, especially smaller ones.
Earlier this month, he sent a letter to Congress seeking legislation to help consumers and small businesses stay connected over the coming months. He’s asked companies not to disconnect consumers and small businesses in July and to instead offer extended payment plans or deferred payment arrangements.
In testimony during a Senate committee FCC oversight hearing on Wednesday, he called the pledge a big win for the American people, with more than 780 providers participating. But he reiterated that these companies can’t continue to provide service indefinitely without being paid.
“The efforts of the Commission and the private sector as we transition out of the Pledge will afford Congress the opportunity to provide funding in July to help ensure that Americans have continued access to broadband and telephone services,” he said in written testimony. “And the Broadband Connectivity and Digital Equity Framework proposed by Chairman [Roger] Wicker and Ranking Member Greg Walden of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce is a forward-thinking proposal. The FCC welcomes the opportunity to work with you on this or other related legislative initiatives.”
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In March, the FCC granted temporary access to the 5.9 GHz band so that WISPs could use it for serving their communities during the pandemic. That affected 33 WISPs serving 330 counties in 29 states and allowed them to use the lower 45 megahertz of the spectrum in the 5.9 GHz band for 60 days.