Texas utility companies waiving fees; city has yet to act

DALLAS - In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas utility companies have taken unprecedented steps to keep customers' lights on, gas flowing, and online connections stable -- even if they can't pay.

Meantime, Palestine City Council members plan to discuss hardship measures Monday, but have no plans yet to ease the burden of paying two other essential services during the statewide emergency -- trash collection and water. Those services are billed through the city.

For many residents, money will be tight after the statewide emergency declaration. Businesses are cutting back or closing. Workers are staying home to avoid the coronavirus.

"We are putting our customers first," Larry Ball, spokesman for Atmos Energy, a Dallas-based natural gas company, told the Herald-Press Friday. "The safety of all of our customers has always been our first priority."

While the declared emergency remains in effect, Atmos has suspended all late fees and customer disconnections.

"Atmos Energy's commitment to safety, paired with our culture, have led us during unique times," Kevin Akers, Atmos President and CEO said. "This will be no different."

Internet Service Providers SuddenLink and Centurylink have similarly suspended all disconnections and late fees. Additionally, Centurylink, a global company serving 36 states, has promised to scrap bandwidth limits, while ensuring the highest speeds possible.

SuddenLink, a division of Altice Business, is also partnering with school districts in their service area to offer its Student WiFi product free for 60 days. That will allow students who have school-issued devices, but no dedicated home Internet access, the ability to use the Optimum WiFi Hot Spot Network to access their school's network and resources.

Electric companies such as TXU and Houston-based Gexa Energy also are working to keep customers safe and connected.

During the declared emergency, Gexa is waiving all disconnection and reconnection fees, as well as late fees. Payment plans will be set up for customers, after the crisis ends, Gexa Energy officials said.

"Everyone needs their power on," a Gexa spokesman said. "That is our number one priority."

TXU, based in Irving, is waiving late fees, extending payment due dates with no down-payment required, and deferring customer balances over multiple installments.

If customers still can't pay, TXU officials said, the company will keep their lights on. Customers in need should call 800-242-9113.

"The coronavirus is causing uncertainty and many hardships," Scott Hudson, president of TXU energy, said. "We are committed to serving our communities."


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