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Coronavirus Roundup: Senators Question Google on Privacy, UTOPIA CEO on Fiber’s Inevitability, NCTA’s COVID19 Dashboard

David Jelke



Photo of CEO Roger Timmerman courtesy UTOPIA Fiber

Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., on Tuesday asked Google for information about the company’s recently announced COVID-19 Community Mobility Reports.

Google describes the project as an aggregated and anonymized form of providing insight into movement trends related to the coronavirus pandemic. The project employs users’ location information.

In their letter, the senators commended Google for its efforts to combat the current public health crisis, but cautioned the company against taking any steps that risk undermining their users’ privacy.

“An individual’s location data can reveal other sensitive information, such as a place of employment, religious affiliation, or political preferences,” wrote Markey and Blumenthal to Google CEO Sundar Pichai. “Access to this type of information can pose risks to both individuals’ civil liberties and their physical safety. While we commend Google’s efforts to assist in combatting the coronavirus pandemic, we caution you against steps that risk undermining your users’ privacy.”

A copy of the Senators’ letter can be found here.

Roger Timmerman: COVID-19 highlights the inevitability of fiber-optics in post-coronavirus world

Public buildout of fiber-optic cable will be inevitable in a post-coronavirus world, writes UTOPIA Fiber CEO Roger Timmerman in The Salt Lake Tribune.

The world will surely recover from COVID-19, but the way we deliver the goods of society will forever be changed, writes Timmerman, who runs the country’s largest open-access network, officially known as the Utah Telecommunications Open Infrastructure Agency.

“Once companies see that employees can be productive working from home; once health systems embrace telemedicine to provide essential health services to rural and homebound patients; and once we see the use of remote technologies significantly reduces traffic congestion and air pollution, there’s no turning back.”

NCTA's COVID-19 Internet Dashboard shows networks shows consumer downstream and upstream traffic increasing

The cable television and internet association NCTA on Tuesday unveiled the first release of data on their COVID-19 Internet Dashboard. The aggregated data from cable internet service providers that deliver broadband to tens of millions of homes and businesses provides a snapshot of data since early March. The NCTA has stated that it will update the dashboard on a weekly basis.

So far, the dashboard has elucidated two new trends:

  • While overall national consumer downstream peak usage is up 19 percent overall since March 1, the last week has seen a slight decrease of -1 percent. This could indicate that consumer usage and demand is leveling off, but the NCTA says it would want to see more than one week of data before making any conclusions.
  • Overall national consumer upstream peak growth is still increasing – up 4 percent week over week – but at a lower level than last week’s 7 percent growth rate. Since March 1, national upstream peak growth has seen a 33 percent increase. This could also indicate a leveling off in consumer demand and usage

Furthermore, the NCTA gave the following explanations for why it thinks networks are holding up:

  • Network operators follow a version of the ‘Wayne Gretzky’ rule: They don’t just build networks to cover the demands of today. They work to anticipate the demand 12 -18 months out. So, today’s network performance reflects in part, the prudent decisions made many months ago, to keep ahead of the curve and be prepared for expected, and unexpected, spikes in demand. Networks are engineered to handle peak demand.  In simple terms, the internet pipe is built fat enough to handle the maximum amount of traffic in a day. Analogize the situation to a very large water pipe built to handle a huge flow of water in the evening (think Netflix streaming).  Normally, there is a very modest amount of water flowing in the daytime, but if suddenly there is a surge of water in the midday (as we are seeing with COVID-19), that does not place any significant burden on the pipe as long as that volume of water is below the peak capacity of it.


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