Is the Internet Slowing Down Because of of the Pandemic?
When countries in Europe and most states in the United States put their citizens into mandatory quarantine in response to the COVID-19 health crisis, or Coronavirus, many residents turned to the Internet for news updates, remote work and online learning for their school-aged children. Some feared that this huge influx of Web users would “break” the Internet, sending servers crashing and millions of people in the dark.
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Ookla, an Internet analysis company reports that Internet speeds did drop in parts of New York City and San Francisco–two of the hardest hit areas—during the first week in March. Italy and China have also seen dips in service as the number of new cases grew. Overall, however, most cities have not seen any significant drops in service, and even those areas that had experienced service slowdowns have recovered in the intervening weeks.
Major Cities are Experiencing Dramatic Slowdowns
While most of the United States is not reporting any major slowdowns, four of its largest cities are seeing a difference in speeds. New York City, San Diego, San Jose and Houston are all experiencing declining speeds according to BroadbandNow, a company that analyzes broadband speeds.
New York City, the largest city in the study and the epicenter of the crisis in the U.S., averaged download speeds of 73 megabits per second in the first two months of 2020. In the last week of March, however, the average speed had dropped to 62 megabites per second.
In San Diego, speeds dropped from 58 megabites per second to 48 megabites per second when compared to the same week last year. Houston has seen a drop from 52 megabites per second to 35 megabites per second.
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Streaming Services and Internet Slowdowns
Popular streaming service Netflix did report that it was slowing down its speed in parts of Europe in order to preserve bandwidth for people who may need Internet for remote work, online learning apps and other essential functions. This slowdown, however, did not apply to its users in the United States, who are by and large enjoying their favorite shows without interruption or delay.
Most of the increase in Internet traffic has come from streaming services like Netflix and Hulu. These services has seen a 75 percent increase in its usual traffic, with many people spending their free time catching up on their favorite shows.
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Videoconferencing, however, has been where the real traffic jam has occurred. Services like Zoom have reported a more than 300 percent uptick in service demands from remote workers. Gaming, however, seems to be the most popular way that people have chosen to pass the time. Gaming platforms have seen a 400 percent increase in usage since the Coronavirus pandemic started.
One puzzling occurrence, however, was the uptick in speed for mobile Internet users. Many users reported their mobile data network to be working more efficiently, so many turned to their phones to stream television shows and conduct video calls. Experts believe that with more people at home, users were relying on their phone’s data plan less, freeing up the networks and speeding up Internet for everyone.
Internet May Be Slowing Down at Home
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Many users are finding that their Internet speeds have slowed down, not because of the virus, but because of the increase in usage at home. With Mom on a video conference call, Dad downloading blueprints for a home improvement project, Grandma ordering vitamins online, the kids working on online lessons, playing their favorite games and watching Netflix all at once, the wireless router gets overloaded and slows everyone down to meet demand. Experts from Ookla said that traffic is highest in the evenings, despite the fact that everyone is home for the entire day.
The Silver Lining
A positive takeaway from the slowed Internet phenomenon is that it means that people are taking the quarantine seriously and obeying directives from President Trump to stay home. As of this writing, several states have issued “shelter in place” orders, mandating that all non-essential employees stay home. In many states, only essential businesses are allowed to remain open, which forces many to hunker down in their homes. If the result is a slower than normal Internet speed, it is simply an inconvenience that we face in order to “flatten the curve” and stop the spread.
While Europe has made the decision to decrease its Internet speeds to meet demand and a few cities in the US have seen slowdowns, overall, Internet providers have been able to keep up with the demand of people who are suddenly forced to stay home. Whether that trend will hold for the duration of the quarantine, however, remains to be seen.
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