The Investigators: Does your internet plan have enough data to handle virtual learning?

Can your internet handle virtual learning?

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Parents logging online for work as their children virtually learn may find they don’t have enough data to handle it all.

Andre Smithson learned that the hard way. His fifth-grade niece came to visit and spent one day virtually learning.

A day or two later, a text message from Comcast Xfinity warned him he had used 90% of his data for the month.

“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but apparently it was,” he said.

“I never really thought about it so when I got that message I thought ‘oh no’! I didn’t know I was in danger of going over,” said Smithson’s wife Janna Smithson. She is an executive producer at WMC Action News Five.

“I thought if it’s happening to me, it’s gotta be happening to somebody else.,” she said.

That’s what The Investigators set to find out.

The Smithson’s plan provides 1.2 terabytes of data per month.

That’s the same amount of data Comcast provides to low-income residents through its Internet Essentials program.

“It’s definitely enough to handle virtual learning,” Alex Horwitz, Vice President of Public Relations for Comcast, said.

He says most customers won’t run out with that much data.

“From what we’ve seen early so far, it sounds as though the 1.2 has been enough,” Horwitz said.

If it’s not enough, Comcast offers an unlimited data upgrade for $25 more per month.

Meanwhile AT&T, which also offers plans with data caps, is offering unlimited data for new and existing customers through September 30.

Verizon is providing unlimited data via hot spots that have been passed out to Shelby County students who don’t have internet.

Access to reliable internet in the Mid-South is a widespread problem.

A map from the U.S. Census shows from 2013 to 2017, fewer than half of the households in most Memphis neighborhoods had broadband access.

According to a non-profit that researches entertainment and technology, 36% of students in Tennessee, 46% of students in Arkansas and 50% of students in Mississippi lack adequate access to the internet.

In Mississippi, most of those students are Black, Latino or Native American.

Rural communities also suffer from lack of internet access.

Meanwhile, Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast all say they are ready for the extra load virtual learning will put on their systems.

“We continue to make adjustments and now with the school year starting,” said Horwitz. “It’s off to a good start and we’re closely monitoring the network, as we are in Memphis, to make sure folks are getting what they need.”

But will getting what folks need to work and learn online cost you more money?

Comcast recommends customers monitor their internet data usage and upgrade as needed to avoid overage charges.

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