Washington, DC – Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley today announced he is continuing his push to protect Americans’ access to utility services by introducing new legislation to put a moratorium on internet shut-offs during the pandemic, protecting access to an essential utility for receiving critical public health information, working from home, and participating in remote learning. Merkley was joined in introducing today’s legislation by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).
The new Continuing Online Networking, Negating Economic Conditions on Technology (CONNECT) At Home Act would institute a moratorium on service terminations by internet service and voice service providers during, and for 180 days after the conclusion of, the national state of emergency. The bill is a complement to Rep. Tlaib and Rep. Dingell’s Emergency Water is a Human Right Act which puts a moratorium on water, electricity and gas disconnections. Together in a COVID-19 package the legislation would ensure that Americans’ have access to the utilities that are even more essential during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Now—as millions of Americans hunker down, work from home, and engage in remote learning—would be the absolute worst time for Americans to lose a critical utility like internet service,” said Merkley. “Oregonians and people across America deserve to know that as we weather the social and economic consequences of this storm together, they will still have be able to go to work, go to school, buy groceries, and stay connected to loved ones—all of which many depend on the internet to do. Congress should include this protection in the next coronavirus response bill.”
“Millions of Americans are finding themselves unable to afford phone and internet service during the COVID-19 crisis. These services are a lifeline, enabling Americans to learn, work, access medical care, apply for assistance, and connect with loved ones while staying safely at home,” said Jenna Leventoff, Senior Policy Counsel at Public Knowledge. “It is unconscionable to shut off services when Americans need them most. This is why we commend Sen. Merkley for introducing legislation that would ensure Americans continue to have access to these essential services.”
As the unemployment rate skyrockets to nearly 15%, millions of Americans are finding themselves unable to pay their bills. This is especially true for low-income families, who are more likely to pay higher rates for basic utilities such as water, electricity, gas and internet. Losing internet access during a public health emergency makes it more difficult for families to receive urgent public health information and guidance, work from home and apply for future employment, collect benefits they need to put food on the table, and shuts children out of remote learning programs—deepening existing inequities and putting lives at risk.
Throughout the coronavirus crisis, Senator Merkley has kept a steady drumbeat on the need to expand and protect broadband access, and protect vulnerable and low-income Americans from a host of other dangerous utility shut-offs.
The full text of the legislation is available here.