Data From Italy, China Suggests The US Internet Isn't Likely To Choke On COVID-19 Broadband Usage Spike

from the spiking-demand dept

As millions of Americans begin to work and learn from home in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19, America’s patchy and expensive broadband networks are likely to get a workout. To be clear, the shift will certainly highlight the broken US telecom market, at least in terms of patchy availability, limited competition, and high prices. But most experts say US networks should be able to shoulder the load without too much difficulty.

As of last week, giants like AT&T and Verizon say they hadn’t seen a massive surge in internet usage yet, and insisted they’d be able to shoulder any load once usage ramps up further:

“Verizon, which runs both wired and wireless networks, said it had not seen a “measurable increase in data usage” since the outbreak but that it was prepared to handle potential increases. ?Verizon operates its networks every day as though it?s a snow day,” Kyle Malady, Verizon?s chief technology officer, said in a statement. “While it is not clear yet how having millions of additional people working from home will impact usage patterns, we are ready to address changes in demand, if needed.”

Most ISPs have taken numerous measures to make sure users can remain online, such as waiving all late fees and promising not to kick people offline if they can’t pay their bill due to Coronavirus-related difficulty. They’ve also indicated they’re going to be eliminating all usage caps and overage fees, making it clear that such restrictions — as countless experts had long argued — didn’t actually help them manage congestion, and were little more than a tax on captive broadband customers in uncompetitive markets.

So far, data from the US, China, and Italy would seemingly suggest that while overall speeds may slow slightly, the internet itself should be able to handle the load:

“Ookla analyzed internet performance data in China, Italy, and the US over the past several weeks. In Hubei, China, the population was locked down on Jan. 22-23, but internet speeds began to decline the week of Jan. 13. In Italy, lockdowns started on March 9, and Ookla saw notable speed declines in both the province of Lombardy and in Italy as a whole that week.

These are speed declines, though, not crashes. The networks are holding up, they’re just under a bit of strain. That bodes well for US networks.

Granted, things could change substantially if supply chains and network engineer and support staffs become shorthanded. Satellite broadband (which is heavily capped and throttled) may be particularly susceptible to strain. But by and large by most indications the US internet should be able to handle the pandemic.

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Comments on “Data From Italy, China Suggests The US Internet Isn't Likely To Choke On COVID-19 Broadband Usage Spike”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Well, we have all been choking on the FFI (foreign fucking idiot) socialist bullshit published by this socialist infection of a website for years now. Hear that swooshing sound? That’s me washing my hands of the socialist shit that is rubbed all over this disgusting sewer.

America is getting healthy, and you socialist infected full of shit assholes are no longer welcome.

God Bless America.

Fuck socialism forever.

Even Bernie knows the truth now. What a professional loser.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, many people tell me that. Since you seem to be so observant and honest, I will tell you the future:

America will quickly recover from this crisis. The medical delivery system will be improved, and cost reduced. Neighbor will help neighbor. Drug prices will come down. People will be healthier, connect with their families more, and make a lot of new babies.

And Trump will be President, forever.

Fuck socialism.

God bless America.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


That’s me washing my hands of the socialist shit

Okay, hope you enjoy privatized roads, privatized utilities, no libraries, no Social Security, no public transportation, no public defenders, no U.S. Postal Service, and no public parks!

America is getting healthy

How many Americans have died from the coronavirus, again?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"How many Americans have died from the coronavirus, again?"

Just as a quick aside, I noted a figure when I was going to respond to this yesterday, total deaths in the US was 115. Checking this morning, it’s now 150. I’m sure he’ll be glad to boast those extra 35 dead people were healthy.

I didn’t not infections, but I do believe it’s grown from around 6500 to around 9500 in the same period, but that’s going from memory so I could be wrong. I wonder how high the numbers need to be for some of these people to understand the problem?e

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

As another sad aside here, today’s figures show the US with now nearly 6,000 more infected than Spain (total 35,224), and 471 deaths. At the current rate of increase, infections stand to outpace China is less than 2 weeks. I also have no doubt that with Americans being scared to seek medical attention lest they be forced into bankruptcy, the real figures are way higher. Our resident idiot’s "healthy" people are dropping like flies.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re:

you dont like teddy roosevelt , because he stopped the corps from taking over the Open areas and converting them to Mines, and big holes in the ground, he made them into PARKS before they could.

You dont think FDR did anything good, like KEEPING people working even tho it was for gov. jobs fixing things up around the nation, including MORE parks..Rather then letting people SIT around and do nothing except Dying, or Going to Thievery to help their family survive for the next 20 years.

You must not like the Social security, as you make to much money to worry about paying rents or utilities.

And I hope you like all the Electricity you have, because the GOV. built most of the facilities.

Roads?? all that work in the 60-70’s WASNT dont by the corps. The intercontinental rail system, do you think that was Fully paid by the Corps?? how about the Current rail system? keeping it alive for freight transport.

Want to talk about subsidies?? that the gov. give to MANY corps even tho most of what they get ends up being EXPORTED to other nations.. Like much of the oil in this country?? and a hell of allot of our food stocks..

If the corps would work for the betterment of this nation rather then take advantage of the generosity of the people(who are oblivious to it) This could be a great country.(AGAIN)

Federico (profile) says:

Traffic statistics

For hard numbers on how much the Internet consumption has grown, the statistics from MIX (Milan Internet eXchange) are about as good as it can get: most of the traffic from/to Italy eventually goes through it.

Typical traffic went from ~800 to ~1100 Gbps, which is not a giant leap but isn’t insignificant either.

Federico (profile) says:

Re: Re: Traffic statistics

Good point, but I’ll note that LINX spike wasn’t nearly as remarkable as the MIX spike I’ve mentioned: their daily peak is already around 4 Tb/s, so a peak ot 4.7 is not even 20 % more. Interesting that it seems to hold up in the following days though (which suggests there were multiple factors at play, unless the game downloads are continuing for 9 days in a row already).

Federico (profile) says:

Re: We may have Netflix to thank

Yes, but only the need to shoulder random spikes can prepare the network to handle a sudden increase of network usage of say 50 % across the board (everywhere at all times).

Netflix may create big peaks when it releases a new TV series, but how big are they? I’d expect them to come relatively staggered. A better stress test might be a sudden contemporary download of very big software packages, like the game download anonymous mentioned above or maybe some urgent M$ Windows software pack mistakenly triggered on millions or billions of machines at once. Even that may not suffice as comparable stress test, because the CDN (cf. ) or even tier1 provider may saturate their cables before the rest of the network does.

I’d like to know what caused the 6.7 Tb/s spikes at AMS-IX in April and June 2019. That might be more likely to tell you who to thank for network robustness. 🙂

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: We may have Netflix to thank

only the need to shoulder random spikes can prepare the network to handle a sudden increase of network usage of say 50 % across the board (everywhere at all times).

If a substantial portion of the traffic is streaming video, that probably puts us in a good position to handle congestion: many of these systems are able to reduce video quality when the connection gets bad.

I’m not too worried about a Windows update saturating any links. That’s digitally signed data, identical for everyone and valid for the long term, which is ideal for CDNs. It might even be cached inside your ISP. It’ll certainly be cached inside a corporate network.

Federico (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: We may have Netflix to thank

Indeed. However the Austrian regulator felt the need to intervene to (allow ISPs to) cap Netflix network usage and the European Commission asked Netflix to avoid congesting the network…

A statement from the executive on Wednesday evening read that “abnormal traffic distribution risks putting Internet infrastructure under strain right when we need it to be operational at the best possible level.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 We may have Netflix to thank

Indeed. However the Austrian regulator felt the need to intervene to (allow ISPs to) cap Netflix network usage and the European Commission asked Netflix to avoid congesting the network…

Funny how ISPs will use any excuse to attack Netflix and similar services.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: We may have Netflix to thank

It might even be cached inside your ISP. It’ll certainly be cached inside a corporate network.

Survey says: buzzer

Nope. In many cases, updates are moving more and more towards direct connections that fail instantly the second an "unauthorized" caching server (i.e. A PROXY!) appears. Just try updating a chromebook with a proxy in the way of, or activating Windows with a proxy in between the client and Microsoft.

Sure Microsoft has WSUS for enterprises, but most systems nowadays are either BYOD consumer units (and hence won’t always be on the corporate network to reach the WSUS server), or corporate devices that after having done the work needed to get activations working period, it was just easier to let them auto update like consumer devices. After all most of the Microsoft Activation servers use the same hosts as Windows Update. Unless you enjoy paying through the nose to run every system as a LTSB release, most companies would probably be moving to individual licensing. (Why pay the VL cost when the biggest benefit was free OS upgrades for the workstations that everyone gets for free now? The only other things you got can be had elsewhere for less.)

Bruce C. says:

To be fair, work from home band-width usage is significantly less than video streaming unless you spend the whole day in video conference. Even conference calls can be done as audio-only or with limited frame rate to reduce consumption. We’ll probably see a bigger increase in broadband usage from workers on leave or terminated from the travel and restaurant industries than we will from people working at home.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Sources of extra traffic

Not just students—there are ongoing layoffs in industries including travel, restaurants, entertainment, dentistry… a lot of people could have time to kill in the next month or two. Maybe longer—not all businesses will bounce back quickly. (See the stories about the class-divide between those who are still working at normal pay, but from home, and those who’ll have no income besides unemployment payments.)

Glenn says:

A well-designed and implemented network can rather easily manage its own traffic. Of course, the #1 feature of such a network is the absence of speed limiters–something the typical ISP network is full of (among other things). The faster existing traffic is allowed to complete, the faster new traffic can proceed, thus the more traffic that can be handled.

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