Phoning Home, How the Pandemic is Changing Cell Phone Plans

NBC 7 Responds explains how changes by major cell phone providers could affect your plan

NBCUniversal, Inc.

The coronavirus pandemic has changed almost every part of our lives and cell phone companies are changing their policies to help us stay connected.

"People are actually picking up the phone now and talking to each other," said Gap Intelligence's Scott Peterson. "The old-school telephone is [now] a primary use of our smartphone."

Gap Intelligence tracks companies such as cell carriers. Their research shows AT&T has seen a 39 percent jump in voice calls, and a 78 jump in WiFi calling. Verizon is seeing 800 million phone calls a day, two times the number of phone calls made on Mother's Day.

Now carriers like AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint and Verizon are all changing their policies.

"They all know we're at home right now," said Peterson. "They all know we are going to be leaning on our networks for human connection and they're doing all they can to help us out."

Here's what some of the carriers have done:

AT&T - as of April 3rd, 2020

  • Can waive late fees for "postpaid wireless, home phone, internet, U-verse TV, and DIRECTV" if you apply online here
  • Will not terminate unpaid plans until May 12th
  • Offering "unlimited internet data" to all "wireline" and "Fixed Wireless" customers
  • Worked out a deal to allow sailors on some U.S. Navy ships to make family calls through April 30th at no cost
  • Has waived overage charges for prepaid plans
  • Added 15 gigabytes of hotspot data for all plans that already had a "monthly tethering allotment"

Verizon - as of April 3rd, 2020

  • Waiving late fees and will not terminate plans of anyone affected by COVID-19 until May 13th, but you must fill out this online form
  • Has waived all upgrade and activation fees
  • Offering free international calling to a number of countries all listed here
  • Providing 15 gigabytes of mobile hotspot data across almost all of its plans
  • No overage fees if you exceed the number of minutes on your prepaid plan

T-Mobile - as of April 3rd, 2020

  • Has an online portal to apply for help if your bill is past due
  • Says all plans with data will be automatically upgraded to an unlimited data plan for 2 months
  • Is letting customers add 20 gigabytes of mobile hotspot data to phones with an existing hotspot plan through their myT-Mobile account
  • Free international calling for all T-Mobile and Metro customers to nearly 4 dozen countries listed here
  • Working to give Lifeline's "Voice Only" customers 5 gigabytes of data

Sprint - as of April 3rd, 2020

  • As of April 1st is now officially a "T-Mobile Company"
  • Has waived late fees and terminations until May 12th
  • Free international calling to countries given a Level 3 travel warning by the CDC
  • Customers with data caps given unlimited mobile data through May 17th
  • Providing 20 gigabytes of mobile hotspot data to all capable devices

Each cell carrier has more information available on its website.

"Historically people complain about their carriers and their customer service," said Peterson. "This is their chance to try and not make people angry."

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