When Americans can’t go out to dinner, spend time with friends, watch sports, or even go to work, where do they turn?
The internet, of course. As a result, the internet has become so overtaxed that some experts expect infrastructure deterioration. By learning from other countries and taking preventative measures, hopefully the U.S can push through the worst of the pandemic with the internet still intact.
Lessons Learned From Around the Globe
The connection between internet demand and the COVID-19 pandemic began in China, where locked down provinces experienced internet speeds at half the normal rate. Italy, Germany, and Spain were next.
In fact, young online gamers in Italy caused local internet usage to increase by more than 90 percent compared to traffic in February. In other parts of Europe, the videoconferencing service Webex hosted so many work-from-home meetings that internet traffic rose more than 80%.
Internet infrastructure experts in America knew this problem would soon impact the U.S. as well.
Quarantines Force Reliance on the Internet
With millions of Americans in quarantine and sheltering in place through April, internet usage is higher than ever before. It’s not just people binging on Netflix and Hulu episodes who are overloading the system; it’s also the countless employers, employees, teachers, and students forced to rely on the internet to communicate and stay productive.
Add to that all of the live streamed events on YouTube, the Zoom and Webex business meetings, FaceTime conversations between separated family members, and online delivery requests, it’s a wonder that our internet infrastructure hasn’t already collapsed into a heap of exhaustion and overuse.
As Tom Wheeler, a former chairman of the FCC, summarized, “When you’ve got a couple of parents at home working remotely, you’ve got a handful of kids home going to school remotely, the demands of the bandwidth become challenged.”
The surge in demand for the internet has become so dramatic that internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon need a new plan. Though they regularly build out networks in anticipation for growing demand, the steep rise in demand occurring through the COVID-19 outbreak has outpaced their preparation. “In just two days we grew all the traffic we had planned for 2020,” says Enrique Blanco, the chief technology officer at Telefonica.
The Consequences of Surging Internet Traffic
Tech companies are doing their best to prevent serious problems before they spiral out of control. YouTube, which is owned by Google, recently announced it will reduce the quality of its videos from high to standard definition, not just in America but across the globe.
In a statement to CNN, YouTube explained it was taking action “to do our part to minimize stress on the system during this unprecedented situation.” The downgrade to standard definition is expected to last 30 days in order to ease the burden on the internet infrastructure during lockdowns.
Users across the country can expect to experience slowdowns, freezing, and other common issues as unprecedented web traffic makes lightning-fast speeds impossible.