In the blink of an eye our lifestyles, social interactions, and educational approach has changed. The impact of the change can be felt in many ways: commuting to the office to remote work, shaking hands to waving from a six-foot distance, classroom education to distance learning, going to a movie theater to streaming from home. For many the change will be difficult and take some time to adjust. For the nation’s broadband network, remote working, video doctor visits, and distance learning are not an issue at all. Across the country we have a widely deployed and reliable broadband Internet service. According the Federal Communications Commission, 99.9% of the U.S population has access to one or more internet services of 4 Mpbs or higher. Whether delivered over cable, fiber, DSL, or wireless technology, the broadband network can take on households working, learning and streaming at the same time. Modern Internet service is ready to fill huge gaps in our social connections, distribution of accurate news and journalism, and for those able to take advantage, the ability to conduct business from home.
The nation’s broadband and Internet infrastructure seems to be faring well in the face of this overnight, unprecedented increase in demand. Some centralized locations of traffic exchange – known as peering points – are showing an uptick in demand. But, broadband network executives I’ve spoken to over the last few days, shared that there appears to be no systemic increase in demand that would warrant a degradation of service.
That said, there are things that all of us can do to help keep the broadband and Internet services we are now dependent upon working.
Tips for Broadband Operators: For broadband operators, it is imperative to keep the service running for everyone. Perhaps consider alternate scheduling for maintenance windows and limit changes to the network to only the most critical issues. Proactive monitoring of capacity and system demands can help target allocation of both capital and human resources. For field techs that need to work inside private homes, emphasize proper hygiene, keep hand sanitizer available, wipe heavily used tools often and practice well-known social distancing techniques. Take care of your people – we are going to need them.
Tips for Broadband Users: For consumers, understand that network capacity in many ways is a limited resource. Internet connectivity depends on a technology called statistical multiplexing. That’s techie talk for using mathematics to support everyone, but under the pretense that not everyone is using all the network all the time. Broadband networks are labor intensive. Adding capacity is not just turning on a switch. It takes people, time and work, and we are going to need that human effort just to keep the system running. We will need to change how we expect the network to operate. Here are a few tips:
- Schedule large uploads of data, such as photos and home movies, for overnight hours.
- If you are using video conferencing tools, consider going audio-only or configure your video software to use a lower bitrate.
- Home surveillance cameras can consume lots of bandwidth constantly – strongly consider restricting their use to off peak times.
Just as social distancing techniques help us constrain demand on a hard-to-expand resource like hospitals, we will need to change our expectations of hard-to-expand resources like broadband capacity.
Remote work, not a problem. Teenagers gaming all day, bring it on. Distance learning and video based education, lets go. The Internet will rise to the occasion and help provide the connectivity necessary to maintain our society, economy, and health.