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Americans increased broadband use by 30 percent during the pandemic

An industry report shows that the web performed well under unprecedented demand

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Photo (c) Matt Anderson Photography - Getty Images
One year ago, offices and schools closed because of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Authorities ordered an economic lockdown and asked Americans to shelter in place to limit the spread of the virus. All of a sudden, office workers had to use the internet for communication with colleagues, and children were using it to complete school assignments. That caused traffic on home broadband networks to jump by 30 percent, according to a new industry report.

Despite that sudden increase in demand, researchers at the Broadband Internet Technicdal Advisory Group found that the internet held up reasonably well.

“Overall, the available data suggests that the Internet has performed well during the pandemic, and continues to do so, despite unparalleled and rapid changes in traffic demands,” the authors wrote. “Although individual end-users may have experienced isolated issues, we found no data or reports that suggest that the Internet did not perform to meet the needs of the end-users.”

Future concerns

But the researchers caution that the network might be vulnerable in the future, especially as its use continues to grow. During 2020, there was a spike in downstream data as consumers watched more streaming videos.

There was an even larger increase in upstream data -- things like Zoom meetings and virtual weddings. Some networks reported as much as a 300 percent increase in video conferencing traffic last year.

The report points out that ISPs typically provide a lot more downstream capability than upstream.

Performance exceptions

Even though the internet as a whole held up during the pandemic, the report notes there were exceptions. Rural areas served by less robust systems struggled with spotty service at times. Households using older equipment also reported excessive buffering.

"It is apparent that performance issues inside of home networks related to inadequate customer supplied user devices and Wi-Fi have become real problems," the researchers wrote.

Consumers may need to consider upgrading their home network equipment to keep up. This could include establishing a reliable ethernet connection instead of using Wi-Fi, upgrading to faster devices, and switching to a service that can provide a faster internet connection.

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