WASHINGTON — On Tuesday, Sens. Jeff Merkley (D–Oregon), Bernie Sanders (I–Vermont) and Ron Wyden (D–Oregon) introduced legislation to put a moratorium on internet and phone shutoffs during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Continuing Online Networking, Negating Economic Conditions on Technology (CONNECT) At Home Act would treat broadband as an essential utility and protect access for everyone in the United States to critical public-health, employment and education information. The moratorium would prevent phone and cable companies from terminating access to internet and voice services during the national state of emergency and for 180 days beyond its conclusion.
In April, a coalition of 830 utility-justice, environmental, faith, digital-rights and civil-rights groups sent a letter to Congress calling for the next congressional COVID-19 relief package to include a similar moratorium on broadband, electricity and water shutoffs.
Free Press Action Policy Manager Dana Floberg made the following statement:
“We commend Senators Merkley, Sanders and Wyden for rising to this moment and introducing legislation that would ensure that no one loses life-saving communications services during the pandemic emergency. Under social-distancing orders, having internet at home is a literal lifeline for communities across the nation. Our digital connections to doctors, family, jobs and schools become even more critical when physical connection is a serious public-health risk.
“With unemployment levels we haven’t seen since the Great Depression, millions of people can’t afford to pay for broadband, but they can’t afford to be disconnected either. Efforts at the Federal Communications Commission have not been enough. While Free Press Action appreciates the many internet service providers that have signed Chairman Ajit Pai’s pledge not to terminate service for customers who can’t pay their bills, the fact remains that this pledge is voluntary, unenforceable and far from universally adopted.
“And the harms are real: Every week, more and more stories show people are still losing service. The CONNECT At Home Act would ensure that everyone struggling to afford their internet or phone service is protected.”