More and more people are staying home to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. And that means they're relying on the internet to work, do school assignments, stay connected to loved ones and just pass the time.
Streaming traffic has doubled in locked-down countries including Spain, France and Italy, according to Germany-based streaming guide JustWatch. In the U.S., the demand for streaming increased by more than 80%.
Question is: Can internet service providers handle this influx?
Brett Sappington: "The architecture of broadband services for most neighborhoods, you do notice greater lag, less bandwidth whenever there are many people using the network all at the same time."
Professor Dustin York: "So, when you start streaming, and your neighbor starts streaming and working from home throughout the entire day, and they're on Skype and Zoom all day, it's going to make WiFi quite a bit spotty."
Most experts agree that during these times, internet users will notice the highs and lows of the congested connections. Stock-trading sites, corporate VPNs, gaming and streaming platforms will likely feel the brunt of the strain.
And in Europe, companies including YouTube, Facebook, Netflix and Disney Plus are temporarily lowering streaming quality to "alleviate any potential network congestion during the COVID-19 crisis."
Sappington: "I think we'll also see that in mobile, where you'll see a greater stress on the mobile network. I don't think it will be anything that will break the network, certainly. But I do think people will see more spinning discs on their laptops, or perhaps more delays. … It will be noticeable, but I don't think it's going to really break anyone's experience."
That's good news for most internet customers in the U.S. But not every household is equally connected. An FCC commissioner told The Washington Post, "With coronavirus, we're about to expose just how challenging our digital divide is and just how unequal access to broadband is."
Through the FCC's "Keep Americans Connected Pledge," more than 60 companies — including AT&T, CenturyLink, Comcast, Sprint and Verizon — promise not to terminate internet services to any residential or small business customers if they can't pay their bills "due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic."
Additionally, these companies pledge to open Wi-Fi hotspots "to any American who needs them."