Can the Internet Bear the Load of the Coronavirus Pandemic


Will Coronavirus Break the Internet?


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Can the Internet Bear the Load of the Coronavirus Pandemic

In the U.S., more than two-thirds of the population is now stuck at home as more states impose restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus* — Many are turning to the Internet for entertainment, social connection, and remote work

Peak Usage Is Now The Norm

  • U.S. internet service providers are also reporting record-high internet traffic
    • Increased use is driven by
      • WiFi calling: +88%
      • Online gaming: +75%
      • VPN usage: +30%
    • In March, AT&T reported an all-time high in Netflix streaming — On March 25th, users across the U.S. and Europe experienced outages lasting about an hour
  • In Seattle, one of the cities hit hardest by the virus, internet traffic began spiking at the end of January — by March it had risen by 30%
    • Typically this type of usage spikes only occurs during events like the SuperBowl
  • More Traffic Is Coming
    • In 2017, 12 million U.S. schoolchildren didn’t have home internet access
    • Now that students are learning from home, internet service providers are stepping in to provide internet access
      • Comcast & Spectrum/Charter: Offering 2 months of free access to low-income families
      • AT&T: Suspended broadband usage caps
      • Comcast: Opening public hotspots for free use — Many of which use customers’ rented WiFi routers to provide a connection
        • Without careful security measures, these public hotspots could help a hacker gain access to your home network
    • 70 telecoms companies have sign the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected pledge — Agreeing to waive late fees and not cut service for lack of payment
      • AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, Verizon, Comcast, Google Fiber
  • Bolstering Infrastructure
    • As Internet traffic climbs, service providers are working to keep their networks at peak performance
      • In March, the FCC granted AT&T and Verizon temporary access to unused spectrum to expand broadband access
        • AT&T began deploying portable cellular sites to boost data coverage for first responders in Indiana, Connecticut, New Jersey, California, and New York
    • In the E.U., Amazon, Netflix, and YouTube have limited all streaming to standard definition video for at least 30 days
      • Many have begun calling for a similar move in the U.S.

“Lives depend on reducing face-to-face interaction, and the internet is perfect for that. But there is a risk that usage will surge and capacity will be inadequate and performance will suffer. This is new ground for all of us.” — Jon Peha, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University

Can Our Internet Handle The Surge?

  • In 2011, the FCC started studying the performance of residential networks
    • Most service providers were able to maintain performance during peak usage hours
    • BUT, the study didn’t account for the effects of WiFi, corporate VPNs, and sudden, mass behavior change
  • Residential Internet Has Limits

For those with metered plans, many service providers are waiving data caps and overage fees, but speed could still be a problem

  • Standard home internet prioritizes download speed
    • Download speed is essential for typical home use, like streaming video
    • Upload speed is important for business uses, like videoconferencing
    • Most DSL, cable, mobile wireless, fixed wireless, and satellite internet services offer fast downloads — but slower uploads
      • Newer cable broadband and fiber networks are more balanced
  • Many workplace applications aren’t designed to work on slower home networks
    • Data-heavy apps could quickly overwhelm home networks upload capacity

4 of the 10 largest U.S. have seen residential internet speed slow down during the pandemic*

  • Your WiFi network isn’t designed for intensive use
    • More people active on home networks at one time
    • “We just don’t know . . . What is sufficient bandwidth for a couple of home computers for a husband and wife may not be sufficient when you add students who are going to class all day long operating from home.” — Tom Wheeler, Former FCC Chairman

“I don’t think the whole internet is going to come crashing down, but there’s likely going to be some unevenness in experiences. “ — Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge

How To Stay Connected: A Home Internet Toolkit

  • Get The Best Connection
    • Best Router Placement
      • Central location — for the best signal coverage
      • Away from other tech — nearby electronics may cause interference
      • Never use a cabinet or closet — walls will obstruct your signal

Can Your Microwave Interfere With WiFi? Both operate at 2.4 GHz, so interference is possible — BUT, if you’re using a 5 GHz router, you shouldn’t have any issues

  • Netgear WiFi Analytics
    • Free app that works with any router
    • Tests wifi signal as you move around your house
    • Identifies best channel with the best signal
  • Change Your Router Channel & DNS
    • Find your router’s IP address — Usually printed on the back of the device
    • Enter the IP address in  your web browser and login to the interface
    • Navigate to WiFi settings and enter the best channel for your home
    • Next, choose a faster DNS service by directing your router to use
      • Cloudflare: or
      • Google: or
  • Reduce Unnecessary Traffic
    • Hardwire Your Computer: A wired ethernet connection offers higher speed than WiFi, simply plugging into your router could boost your speed
    • Use Voice Instead Of Video: If your teleconference is struggling to stay connected, try turning off video for everyone except the presenter
    • Change Your Streaming Settings: Many services let you adjust video quality, saving bandwidth for other  activities
      • YouTube, Netflix, Hulu, Prime Video

Can’t Connect? The problem might not be your internet connection — Check for outage reports on high-demand services

  • Is It Time For An Upgrade?
    • Dead Spots? Consider an add-on antenna or  mesh extender
    • Old Router? Check your router settings for firmware updates
      • If your router is more than 5 years old, consider upgrading
        • 5 GHz or dual band routers offer higher speeds and better withstand interference from other devices
        • WiFi 6 routers use simultaneous streams, so IoT and smart home devices won’t slow down your network

If you’re renting a Comcast router, turn off the public hotspot functionality in the router settings, buy a 3rd party router

  • Slow Service? Your chosen internet service will limit your speed — If nothing else works, it might be time to upgrade the speed of your service

The internet is under more stress than ever.  Let’s do our part to use it wisely.