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A proposed U.S. law would make it illegal for telecommunications providers to end internet or phone service during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill was submitted to the Senate today by Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) And Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
"Now that millions of Americans are crouching, working from home, and doing distance education, the worst time for Americans to be is to lose a critical utility like Internet service," Merkley said in an announcement.
Regardless, the House Democrats leadership today announced a $ 3 trillion aid package that includes at least $ 4 billion for an "emergency broadband connection fund". If approved, this money would be given to ISPs that give discounts to low-income households and people who lose their jobs. Subsidies would be up to $ 50 per month for most low-income households and up to $ 75 for tribal households. A further $ 1.5 billion would be made available for Wi-Fi hotspots and other telecommunications equipment for schools and libraries.
The aid package also includes a provision that "prohibits telephone and broadband service providers from stopping the service for consumers who cannot pay during the emergency," the House Democrats said.
Bill goes beyond the FCC's voluntary promise
Merkley's Senate bill would impose fines on ISPs that separate customers during the pandemic, while the Federal Communications Commission only requested ISPs to sign a voluntary commitment to the service to retail or small business customers who are unable to Pay bills, not quit because of the pandemic. The FCC's authority to protect consumers from ISPs was invalidated in 2017 when Chairman Ajit Pai deregulated the broadband industry as part of its lifting of net neutrality.
The FCC promise was signed by more than 700 companies, but left ISPs scope to separate customers who did not notify the provider that the pandemic was causing their bankruptcy. NBCNews reported last month that some unemployed are losing their jobs despite the FCC promise; At the time, Verizon made it clear that "customers must contact us proactively to seek help".
Merkley, Sanders and Wyden want to prevent the shutdowns from happening at all and force ISPs to reconnect customers who were disconnected after the pandemic started. The bill would be retroactive to March 13, 2020. Any provider who has ended the voice or Internet service on or after that date "must resume service immediately upon the entry into force of this Act," the invoice states.
The law would be in effect for at least another six months
The provisions of the bill would remain in effect "180 days after the date on which President Trump's declared COVID-19 emergency ends." During this time, telecommunications may not separate voice or Internet services, except "at the customer's request; to protect the provider's network from misuse" or to meet legal requirements.
On the latter point, ISPs would be allowed to stop the service "in collaboration with a law enforcement agency for the protection of life and security in urgent circumstances" to comply with a "valid judicial order" or "in accordance with" the Digital Millennium Copyright Harbor provision of the law.
Telecommunications that terminates the service in other circumstances, e.g. For example, if a customer cannot pay the bill, they would be fined up to $ 100 for each day of the violation. The Federal Communications Commission would have to use the proceeds of such fines to "support low-income people who do not have access to affordable broadband services due to the COVID-19 emergency," the bill said.
The bill would also lead individual customers or prosecutors to sue providers who interrupt service during the pandemic. The bill doesn't seem to go into what would happen after the pandemic if ISPs could separate customers who don't pay the full overdue amounts.
Merkley's announcement accused the bill on telecommunications shutdowns as a "complement" to the laws put forward by Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) And Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) That would impose a "moratorium on water, electricity, and water." Gas shutdowns. Together in a COVID-19 package, legislation would ensure that Americans have access to the utilities that are even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. "
Even today, democratic senators like Ed Markey (D-Mass.) And minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) Have presented a $ 4 billion plan to expand Internet access for K-12 students.