Utilities Suspending Service Disconnection, Waiving Late Fees During Pandemic

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In response to the COVID-19 outbreak, Gainesville Regional Utilities and Cox Communications are suspending service disconnection for nonpayment and waiving late fees.

Following a Gainesville City Commission meeting on March 12, GRU management decided to suspend disconnection of services for residential customers and late fees for all customers starting March 16 until April 30, when it will re-evaluate.

GRU General Manager Ed Bielarski wrote in a statement GRU recognizes the financial hardship customers are facing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maureen Murtha, a GRU spokesperson, said these relief programs are meant to alleviate some of its customers’ worries.

“GRU stands by its commitment to customers who need our services more than ever because they’re spending much more time at home, whether that is working or learning remotely or simply adhering to the stay-at-home order,” Murtha said. “The situation changes every day as does our response, but we wanted to give our customers something they could rely on during these unprecedented times.”

Murtha said GRU will continue to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak’s impact on the community.

GRU charges for electricity through the following tier system: The first tier price is $0.0745/kWh (plus fuel adjustment) for 1 to 850 kWh usage, and the second tier price of $0.0987/kWh (plus fuel adjustment) applies to kilowatt-hour billed in excess of 850 kWh.

Murtha said GRU anticipates the stay-at-home order to increase residential electricity usage by customers between 10% to 15% but doesn’t expect it will be enough for it to jump from one tier to the other.

Murtha recommends moderating thermostat settings because space cooling is the single biggest use of electricity in the home.

“GRU’s team was built to handle emergency situations and they have introduced novel, creative ways to make sure that the community doesn’t have to think twice when flipping on the electric switch, turning the handle on the faucet, or flushing the toilet,” said Bielarksi. “That’s why GRU is here. To make sure you don’t have to imagine going without those services.”

Cox, along with GRU, is offering its own relief package to customers.

Cox Public Affairs Manager Cam Johnson said Cox pledged to support the Federal Communications Commission’s Keep America Connected initiative to ensure service for customers facing financial stress due to the pandemic.

The pledge states through May 15, Cox will not terminate internet or telephone service to any residential or small business customer because of nonpayment, will waive any internet or telephone late fees that residential or small business customers incur and will open all Cox Wi-Fi outdoor hotspots.

Johnson said Cox upgraded residential customers in the Starter, StraightUp Internet and Connect2Compete packages to 50 Mbps speeds through May 15 for free. Customers with the Essential package were also upgraded to 50 Mbps but without an end date, a change that had been originally planned for later in the year.

“We always knew providing our customers with the connection they need to do their work, schooling, entertainment and even families was important,” Johnson said. “But now it is paramount so they can properly follow the stay-at-home guidelines.”

About Nicole Bowen

Nicole Bowen is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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