The coronavirus has taken a huge toll on human life. It also has trashed the global economy and will no doubt leave behind gallons of red ink in its wake. But not all industries are negatively impacted. In fact, some have been so busy since the beginning of the pandemic that they are actually looking to hire more people. One of these businesses is food and grocery delivery; with people told to stay inside, firms like Uber Eats, Shipt and Instacart are desperately seeking warm bodies to shop and deliver orders.
And according to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, providing wireless service for mobile devices is also a money-making enterprise during a global pandemic. On CNN's Reliable Sources
today, Stephenson told host Brian Stelter that "mobile volumes are up 40 percent," while "Wi-Fi calling volumes are up 100 percent." With more and more people working from home, the executive points out that its networks are holding up and are performing well but some signs of stress have been surfacing. The executive said, "We’re seeing some signs of stress. We’re having to go out and do some of augmentation of network … but right now the network is performing quite well."
Working from home could be the new normal after the current crisis ends
With some AT&T customers no longer getting a paycheck, the company is trying to lighten the financial load by waiving overage fees for domestic wireless voice calls and data usage retroactively to March 13th. Stephenson says that AT&T wants to make sure that Americans can stay connected even if they are practicing social distancing. And the company did agree to the FCC's "Keep Americans Connected Pledge" which promises Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint residential and small business customers that they won't lose their accounts even if they can't pay their bills on time. In addition, late fees and overage fees are suspended and the carriers will open access to their public Wi-Fi hotspots. The pledge is in effect for 60 days but might be extended for a longer period depending on where we stand with the pandemic after the two months are completed.
The FCC pushed the pledge as a way to make sure that those now forced to work from home aren't taken advantage of. While the focus has been on broadband first (originally, AT&T announced that it was suspending data overage fees for its home internet business before turning to the mobile side of its operations), obviously mobile device usage is also going to go up during the crisis. FCC chairman Ajit Pai, explaining the "Keep Americans Connected Pledge" said, "As the coronavirus outbreak spreads and causes a series of disruptions to the economic, educational, medical, and civic life of our country, it is imperative that Americans stay connected. Broadband will enable them to communicate with their loved ones and doctors, telework, ensure their children can engage in remote learning, and — importantly — take part in the 'social distancing' that will be so critical to limiting the spread of this novel coronavirus."
AT&T currently has 90,000 employees working out of their homes and we could see this become the new normal for many companies even when the current crisis ends. As Stephenson points out, "I think it’s going to cause every business to evaluate how we do business. I think when we come out of this, this is exactly what we’re going to see." But not everything is going to change. After things return to normal, the executive says that AT&T will "come out of this crisis (and) continue investing in 5G and new technology. We’re looking at this as a time of war. This is like World War II. Everyone needs to step up and do their part in how we help the general population."