Data From Italy, China Suggests The US Internet Isn't Likely To Choke On COVID-19 Broadband Usage Spike

from the spiking-demand dept

As millions of Americans begin to work and learn from home in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19, America's patchy and expensive broadband networks are likely to get a workout. To be clear, the shift will certainly highlight the broken US telecom market, at least in terms of patchy availability, limited competition, and high prices. But most experts say US networks should be able to shoulder the load without too much difficulty.

As of last week, giants like AT&T and Verizon say they hadn't seen a massive surge in internet usage yet, and insisted they'd be able to shoulder any load once usage ramps up further:

"Verizon, which runs both wired and wireless networks, said it had not seen a "measurable increase in data usage" since the outbreak but that it was prepared to handle potential increases. “Verizon operates its networks every day as though it’s a snow day," Kyle Malady, Verizon’s chief technology officer, said in a statement. "While it is not clear yet how having millions of additional people working from home will impact usage patterns, we are ready to address changes in demand, if needed."

Most ISPs have taken numerous measures to make sure users can remain online, such as waiving all late fees and promising not to kick people offline if they can't pay their bill due to Coronavirus-related difficulty. They've also indicated they're going to be eliminating all usage caps and overage fees, making it clear that such restrictions -- as countless experts had long argued -- didn't actually help them manage congestion, and were little more than a tax on captive broadband customers in uncompetitive markets.

So far, data from the US, China, and Italy would seemingly suggest that while overall speeds may slow slightly, the internet itself should be able to handle the load:

"Ookla analyzed internet performance data in China, Italy, and the US over the past several weeks. In Hubei, China, the population was locked down on Jan. 22-23, but internet speeds began to decline the week of Jan. 13. In Italy, lockdowns started on March 9, and Ookla saw notable speed declines in both the province of Lombardy and in Italy as a whole that week.

These are speed declines, though, not crashes. The networks are holding up, they're just under a bit of strain. That bodes well for US networks.

Granted, things could change substantially if supply chains and network engineer and support staffs become shorthanded. Satellite broadband (which is heavily capped and throttled) may be particularly susceptible to strain. But by and large by most indications the US internet should be able to handle the pandemic.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: broadband, congestion, covid-19, networks

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2020 @ 4:51pm


    Fuck socialism forever.

    Then you'll be burning your payout from the government instead of cashing it, right?

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Insider Shop - Show Your Support!

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.