PHOENIX — Two internet providers for Arizona ended waiving ‘data caps’ right before kids started online virtual school across the state.
Both Cox Communications and CenturyLink gave families unlimited internet data during part of the pandemic, but the offers ended right before many Arizona kids started school online.
Cox waived their data caps from March to July 15. CenturyLink waived their data caps until August 1. Most students across the Valley started going back to school the first or second week of August.
“Your household has used 75% of your data plan,” read an email to Mickey Siegel. He is one of so many that received an alert from Cox Communications that he was closing in on his data limit.
Siegel, his wife and their two children are all depending on their internet for school and work.
“I feel very much like I’ve been taken advantage of to a certain extent,” he said.
Siegel said he didn’t want to go over his monthly plan and pay excess fees, so he upgraded his plan. However, his plan will now go up to around $170 per month.
Both Cox and CenturyLink say only a limited number of their customers are exceeding their data.
In an email to ABC15 CenturyLink wrote, “Very few CenturyLink customers, out of our millions of high-speed internet customers, exceed the data usage limit provided with their monthly broadband plan and the limit doesn’t apply to customers who receive discounted internet service through a state or federal program or those who have our fiber gigabit service.”
The company also said they have an excessive use policy, “Our excessive use policy (EUP) has a 1TB per month limit for our residential broadband customers and does not immediately shut off access.”
A spokesperson for Cox Communications said that although waiving the data caps has ended, they have added data allowances.
In an email, a spokesperson wrote, "after reviewing data consumption during this time period, we know that nearly 90% of customers would not have exceeded the 1TB data plan. Today, as many are still working and learning from home, we want to make it easier on our customers to stay within the data plans they signed up for, and recently raised data allowances across the board by 25% to 1.25 terabytes.”
They say with the increase in the data cap, that 95% of their internet customers will not exceed their current data plan now.
ABC15 reached out to the State Superintendent about data caps. A spokesperson for Kathy Hoffman said they are hearing the same issues about data caps and they are extremely concerned.
In a statement, a representative for her office said, “I don’t believe we have addressed the specific issue of data caps with the Governor’s office yet, but we have had ongoing discussions about bridging the digital divide with both the Governor’s office and our congressional delegation.”
State Representative Aaron Lieberman (D-28) tells ABC15 he’s concerned about a digital divide that puts families who can’t afford internet behind those who can, “We can’t let a generation of kids slip away and fall through the cracks because they don’t have internet access at home. That’s just not right, and we shouldn’t let it happen in Arizona.”
Lieberman said Governor Doug Ducey has put a lot of CARES Act money towards education, and lower-income schools. He also said that a lot of districts are using money they received for digital tools from providing computers to personal hot spots to connect to the internet.
“But, the reality is our education system has been so underfunded for so long even with the recent increases we’re below where we were ten years ago,” said Lieberman.
ABC15 reached out to Governor Doug Ducey’s office about data caps and if he’s exploring any options to helping families.
A spokesperson said they are going to look into this exact issue, “We appreciate you bringing this issue to our attention. Our office has worked with internet service providers as well as federal regulators throughout this crisis to help maximize Arizonans' access to the internet and put in place protections for households in need. In addition, we've worked with Superintendent Hoffman's office to prioritize internet access for students, including providing hot spots to students conducting distance learning and investing $40 million to expand broadband in rural parts of the state.”
Superintendent Hoffman’s office said there is a new Wi-Fi map called ‘Connect Arizona’ that shows open hotspots around the state that was just shared with schools yesterday.
CenturyLink said they provide discounts to qualifying customers, you can learn more here.
As for saving bandwidth for your internet data plans, Cox Communications shared these tips:
- Wi-Fi is all about bandwidth. The more devices that connect, the slower the speeds will be. Certain devices like computers or TVs usually use more bandwidth than mobile phones and tablets.
- When not in use, turn off laptops, tablets, computers, and TVs.
- Certain mobile apps may silently hog your bandwidth, too.
- Look at your device settings and determine which platforms are running in the background. When possible, disable these configurations.
- You should also determine how other family members are using your Wi-Fi (the Cox app provides a detailed report of Wi-Fi usage).
- Disconnect other devices in the home that are not in use/necessary. Most often this includes smart refrigerators, microwaves, cordless phones, and even baby monitors. Think about devices that may be in a guest bedroom that might not be in use.
- Check to make sure security cameras are not recording in high definition.
- Speaking of high definition, to utilize less bandwidth it is best to watch movies in standard definition.