The cable industry responded rapidly to the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting shutdowns in order to get Americans connected to reliable broadband services as our lives moved online.
The pandemic underscored the challenges of the digital divide.
Cable’s biggest focus during the pandemic was education – getting kids and families online at home to keep students learning as schools abruptly shifted to remote instruction or, later, a combination of remote/in-person instruction.
Cable companies immediately enhanced their existing programs designed to connect low-income families.
Texas Cable Association member in March quickly signed the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge, promising that for 60 days they would: not cut off broadband or telephone service to any customers, even those unable to pay their bills; waive late fees incurred because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and open their Wi-Fi hotspots to all. The FCC later extended the pledge through the end of June, and it was honored by all TCA members.
Some companies later extended the pledge further, on their own. Comcast, for example, has extended (for the third time) through June 30, 2021, its offer of free internet service for the first 60 days for new Internet Essentials customers, and free access to more than 1.5 million public Xfinity Wi-Fi hotspots.
TCA cable members also took a number of additional steps, including expanding existing low-income internet connection programs, pausing data caps, donating devices and other actions. They have continued to work with schools, education officials and others to increase internet access to enhance education opportunities.
As a whole, the cable industry in September 2020 launched the “K-12 Bridge to Broadband” initiative to help increase home connectivity solutions for students, as many schools adapted to remote and hybrid learning classrooms amid the coronavirus pandemic. The initiative was launched by NCTA – the Internet & Television Association in partnership with EducationSuperHighway, a national non-profit that works to close the classroom connectivity gap. All TCA member companies are participating in the initiative.
Other education-related actions taken by individual TCA member companies include:
- Announced on April 23, 2020, a new $10 million Community Relief Program to support the recovery efforts of small and medium-sized business customers across the company’s footprint. The company also established a separate program to support Feeding America and the Boys & Girls Club of America.
- Relaunched on Sept. 21, 2020, its free 60-Day Spectrum internet & Wi-Fi offer to help connect new households with K-12 and college students or educators. The offer was first issued in March, resulting in 448,000 new households added through June 30, 2020.
- Announced on Oct. 1, 2020, Stay Connected K-12, a new Spectrum Enterprise solution that enables schools to offer high-speed, cable broadband internet access direct to their students, educators and staff in their own homes so learning and teaching are uninterrupted.
- Launched in August 2020 the “Internet Essentials Partnership Program” to enable cities, school districts and community-based organizations to connect large numbers of low-income students to the internet to support distance learning.
- Announced in September 2020 a multiyear program to launch more than 1,000 “Lift Zones” in community centers across the country by working with its network of thousands of nonprofit partners and city leaders. Comcast is providing Wi-Fi in these facilities to help students get online, participate in distance learning, and do their schoolwork.
- Launched Comcast RISE in October 2020 to help small businesses hit the hardest by the economic impact of the pandemic. The multi-year initiative started with assisting businesses owned by with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Help includes grants, marketing and technology upgrades, as well as free marketing insights to all applicants.
- Comcast Houston Region teamed with Lone Star College-Houston North to provide free internet access to 200 students and families in need through its Internet Essentials program.
Covid-19 Related Philanthropy
The Texas Cable Association worked closely with state leadership to make sure Texas had the tools it needed to help our state during this time, including using cable’s capabilities to get credible, accurate information out to Texans. As part of this commitment, TCA members Altice USA, Charter Spectrum, Comcast and Sparklight donated air-time to run a Public Service Announcement by Gov. Greg Abbott which promoted simple and effective ways for Texans to respond to the coronavirus.
Members of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association – which include TCA’s member companies – also committed to provide over $100 million worth of public service ads through June to help educate the public about the COVID-19 pandemic and how to curtail the virus’ spread.
COVID-related giving by cable companies in Texas included providing gloves to hospitals, meals to healthcare workers, donations to community nonprofits meeting Texans’ basic needs, financial assistance for small business recovery, airtime for COVID-19 related public service announcements, and support for cable employees facing tough times.