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Cox, APS, SRP stop disconnections amid COVID-19 concerns

Power lines in Arizona
Posted at 6:56 PM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-18 21:33:38-04

PHOENIX, AZ — As more Arizonans work and learn from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, utilities are gearing up for increased demand, industry representatives told Arizona Corporation Commissioners on Tuesday.

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Regulators held an open meeting via teleconference with Arizona water, power, gas and internet providers on Tuesday. In a work-around for what is perhaps a new normal, Chairman Bob Burns and Commissioner Lea Marquez-Peterson participated via video conference.

Providers spent about two hours explaining what measures they're taking to protect workers, keep up with demand and assist customers during emergency operations.

Most utilities--including Arizona Public Service, Salt River Project, Southwest Gas, Century Link, and Cox Communications--said they have waived late fees and suspended disconnections for non-payment for the immediate future.

Recognizing that some families only have internet on their phones, or have no internet access at all, particularly in rural areas, Commissioners questioned how those providers could assist in temporarily improving access for students.

Cox Communications said it has already made changes for residential customers that will last through May 15. This includes boosting internet speeds for residential lower tier plans Starter, StraightUp Internet and Connect2Compete to 50 Mbps, eliminating data overage charges, and rolling out free WiFi outdoor hot spots available for public use. Find a hotspot near you here.

The company also says it is fast tracking access for families with school age students who qualify for Connect2Compete, the company's $9.95 internet plan.

A representative for Century Link told Commissioners the company is "trying to figure out ways to works with citizens who need internet and may not have it."

Internet access may become more important for kids if schools remain closed for extended periods of time.

The Arizona Department of Education told commissioners it has petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to allow them to extend internet range into surrounding neighborhoods so students can access online school work.