Verizon Forces Users On To More Expensive Broadband Plans Just To Get $50 Covid Subsidy

from the not-helping dept

As part of a recent COVID bill, the government recently announced that folks struggling economically during COVID would be getting some temporary help. Under the EBB (Emergency broadband Benefit program), U.S. consumers can nab a $50 discount off their broadband bill, or $75 if you live in tribal areas. The program ends when its $3.2 billion in federal funding expires, or six months after the government has declared an end to the pandemic.

It's a useful but temporary band aid, and doesn't really do much to address the regional monopolization and lack of competition that makes US broadband so perennially mediocre in the first place. Nor does it address the fact the Trump FCC gutted its own consumer protection authority because a bunch of telecom monopolies asked them to, using completely bogus justifications.

Under the program, the money is first given to your broadband provider, which is then in charge of ensuring you get the discount. But given these companies' track record of dodgy behavior, it obviously didn't take long for US telecoms to misbehave. Enter Verizon, which is using the program as an opportunity to upsell customers to more expensive plans. Users contacting Verizon to sign up were told the program didn't apply to their existing plans, and in order to get the discount they'd need to sign up for more expensive service. The Washington Post politely points out this is rather sleazy:

"Verizon elicited the most ire from readers. It requires customers to call a phone line to register for the EBB, rather than just signing up online. And when you do, Verizon told some customers the EBB can’t be used on “old” data plans, so they’d have to switch. That might be allowed by the letter of the law but certainly isn’t the spirit of the program."

Granted this is the same company that tried to upsell California firefighters to more costly plans when their data allotment ran out during an historic wildfire, so this shouldn't be too surprising. In short, knowing the subsidy was temporary, Verizon nudged users to more expensive plans so they'd see a revenue boost when the plan ended. U.S. regulators at the FCC didn't do a thing. Fortunately Verizon reversed course after the Post story began circulating online:

"On Wednesday, two days after I initially published this column, Verizon reversed course and said it would accept old plans. “We heard from some customers that they prefer to stay on the legacy plans they have,” it wrote in a blog post. “Moving forward, we will offer customers on legacy Fios plans (no longer in market today) the ability to enroll in EBB."

A few other companies have taken to using misleading websites to trick users into thinking they're enrolling in the government's official program (the real website for which is here).

Needless to say the press shouldn't always be the last line of defense against Americans getting ripped off, especially considering the increasingly tenuous financial situation the press finds itself in. You also wouldn't need a COVID discount program in the first place if the U.S. hadn't spent the last twenty years coddling regional monopolies, resulting in some of the most expensive prices in the developed world for broadband.

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Filed Under: broadband, competition, covid, discounts, ebb, fcc, subsidy
Companies: verizon


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  • identicon
    Bobvious, 27 May 2021 @ 5:54am

    upsell California firefighters during a wildfire

    Well, it's no surprise.

    These gormless giblet fondlers learned from the best - Enron and Martin Shkreli

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    techflaws (profile), 27 May 2021 @ 7:03am

    We heard from some customers that they prefer to stay on the
    legacy plans they have

    which was totally necessary cause obviously we couldn't have thought ourselves that this would be considered a bad move.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 27 May 2021 @ 8:00am

    'Merika in a nutshell.
    Y'all expect they will do the right thing then are shocked just shocked when they find a way to screw you.

    Telco
    Cable
    Elected Officials
    Corps

    When y'all gonna learn the lessons from the past?
    If there is a way they can screw you, even in the face of armageddon, for a couple cents more they will.

    Somehow no one considered that unless it was explicitly spelled out, and even then half the time, they'll screw you.

    They screwed fire fighters in the middle of a disaster to get a few cents more, but thought oh they'll do the right thing.
    Also missing here is the lesson of we gave them a shit ton of bandwidth & cash to build out a network for first responders... but no one thought to put milestones in it... just keep paying them as they do nothing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 May 2021 @ 9:00am

    Comcast prepaid internet is $45 a month and internet essentials is $10 a month how is that prohibitive?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 27 May 2021 @ 11:20am

    tried to upsell California firefighters to more costly plans when their data allotment ran out during an historic wildfire

    Reminder that this data "ran out" on a custom plan that Verizon had told the firefighters was a specially-set-up "unlimited" account just for them, after the first time Verizon had throttled them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 27 May 2021 @ 11:49am

    In short, knowing the subsidy was temporary, Verizon nudged users to more expensive plans so they'd see a revenue boost when the plan ended. U.S. regulators at the FCC didn't do a thing. Fortunately Verizon reversed course after the Post story began circulating online:

    Well yeah, they know who's going to be signing their paychecks once they leave the FCC and I imagine it's pretty well known that it's generally not a smart move to badmouth your future boss in public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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