April 06, 2020
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Internet, cable companies won’t shut off service to those who can’t pay during outbreak

John Raoux | AP
John Raoux | AP
Charter Communications Inc.'s Spectrum cable TV service has signed the FCC's 'Keep Americans Connected' pledge so customers do not lose their broadband or telephone connectivity during the coronavirus outbreak.

As of 11:30 a.m. Monday, March 23, 107 Maine residents have been confirmed positive for the coronavirus, according to the state. Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.

Internet, wireless, cable, water and other companies say they are suspending shutoffs for nonpayment during the coronavirus outbreak, with some adding extra services to help Mainers get by.

Sprint, Verizon, AT&T, US Cellular, Sprint, Spectrum and Comcast are among the companies that have signed the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s “Keep Americans Connected Pledge.” The aim is to ensure that consumers don’t lose their broadband or telephone connectivity because they can’t pay.

[Here are answers to questions from BDN readers about the new coronavirus]

Companies taking the pledge must agree, over the next 60 days, to not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills because of the coronavirus pandemic, waive late fees because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus and open company Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

Charter said that starting Monday and running for 60 days it will offer free Spectrum broadband and wifi access to households with K-12 or college students who do not already have a subscription. Installation fees will be waived for new student households. The service level is up to 100 Mbps. To enroll call 1-844-488-8395.

It also plans to open its existing wifi hotspots for public use.

[Here’s what has been canceled or postponed in Maine due to coronavirus]

Maine Water President Rick Knowlton said the utility has suspended shutoffs for nonpayment until further notice so customers will continue to have tap water for hand-washing and other hygiene needs. It will work with customers on payment arrangements if needed.

It also has asked employees who can telecommute to start working remotely starting March 16. Its offices are closed to visitors, and in-home services appointments are being limited to those that are essential.

Knowlton said that tap drinking water is not a known source of the coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization.

[Read our full coronavirus coverage here]

Central Maine Power said it has temporarily suspended residential disconnections for nonpayment, even though customers will remain responsible for any balance due.

CMP and the Maine Office of Public Advocate plan to ask the regulatory Maine Public Utilities Commission Monday to extend the winter disconnect period to May 15, and then reevaluate that timeframe if needed, said Catharine Hartnett, spokesperson for CMP.

Maine law requires CMP and Emera Maine to ask for commission approval to shut off electric service during the winter disconnect period, which currently runs through April 15.

CMP’s President and CEO Doug Herling met with public advocate Barry Hobbins Friday and drafted a letter to the commission asking that the timing of the existing statute on the winter disconnections be extended.

The company also asked that those with a service appointment who are ill reschedule it.

Emera Maine spokesperson Judy Long said the utility will work with customers who have a health concern or loss of income.

“We can set up payment plans, see if customers are eligible for low-income assistance or a debt forgiveness program, and make referrals to other services,” she said. “Since we remain in the winter heating season, we are not disconnecting residential customers for nonpayment.”

Customers who may have trouble paying their bill can call Emera Maine at 207-973-2000.

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