Covid-19 impact on the internet

By Scott Hamilton

I would like to open by stating that this week’s article is a lot more opinion and observation than pure facts about the impacts of Covid-19 on the internet. There have been clear impacts to network infrastructure as a result of the social distancing and working from home orders across the country, but there are just not enough facts listed to put a real number on the impact.

Over the past week there have been numerous articles published around the world questioning if the current internet infrastructure could handle the extra traffic from everyone being forced to work from home. The Wall Street Journal predicted that the infrastructure was not ready for such extra workload and we would be looking forward to websites failing to load and online meeting platforms overloading. The New York Times reported exactly the opposite, that we would see minimal impact from the extra loads. As a work from home, high performance computing engineer and cloud architect, I had some questions myself over whether or not the infrastructure could handle the extra load. The European Union requested that Netflix stop streaming high definition videos to reduce the network load across Europe during the outbreak as a precaution to prevent failures.

We are over week into a new society, at least for a short period of time, where a majority of us are working from home. The impact has been minor from my experience, as a user of rural internet service split between a mix of cellular network tethering, satellite service, and microwave-based internet. I have found performance increasing since the onset. I must admit it came as a surprise to me to see performance increase. Here’s the deal: my providers all lifted the imposed bandwidth limits during the outbreak. 

I wonder if they will reimpose the limits following the outbreak. If so, it will lead to a lot of questions from customers. If you ask the reason for the limits, they will say it is because their network cannot handle the full load of all the users. The fact that the limits have been lifted prove that their networks will handle the load of all the users. Now is the perfect time to stream all your favorite television shows, download all your favorite books and use the internet to your fullest ability, because the limits will come back. 

The real impact this virus has had on technology is that the imbalance of network connectivity among students has came into full light. There are students all over Texas and surrounding counties that do not have the necessary bandwidth to stream online classes during the school-from-home period. This prompted many providers, not only in our area, to lift limits to educational sites and cloud based services.

Among the companies to lift the bandwidth restrictions are AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Hughesnet, U.S. Cellular and Comcast to name few. Many others are offering steep discounts on new service installations, taking advantage of our need for speed. I would say that now is a great time to look into getting high speed internet service if you do not already have it, mainly because these deals will likely never come around again.

There are also several 30-day free trials for streaming and education services to keep us entertained and educated during the social distancing period. I challenge you to take a look around for special offers and enjoy trying some new things online. Hey, if you can’t explore the community, you may as well get out there and explore the virtual world.

Next week I plan on doing an article on live-streaming and give details as to how many of our local churches are beginning to offer online worship services and Bible teaching. I will provide pointers to those that are looking for ways to continue their services online. I have also seen local dance studios, fitness trainers and others offer online classes in lieu of face-to-face training. Take a moment to enjoy the flexibility technology has brought during this time of crisis, and who knows, maybe you will find something new to enjoy even after this is all over. 

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