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Searching for Clues: Will Coronavirus Break the Internet?

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Photo of D.C. interns checking phones and streaming movies in a coronavirus self-quarantine by David Jelke

WASHINGTON, March 20, 2020 – American and global society is right now living through the herculean task of moving fundamental aspects of society and commerce online — health, education, labor, and entertainment— at the very moment that people are retreating into a turtle shell of isolation.

Are we are all unwitting subjects in a grand social experiment that has never been run before?

Indeed, one question that rings with ferocious urgency throughout America, urban and rural: Can the United States’ internet infrastructure handle the data usage during quarantine? Or will it collapse under the weight?

Disparate and sometimes contradictory evidence abounds.

A BroadbandNow report relays a broad scope of how the country at large is consuming broadband. For six of the 10 largest American cities, broadband levels have not significantly changed. The remaining four—Houston, San Diego, San Jose and New York— have reported dips in broadband speed. Confusingly, the first epicenter of the coronavirus COVID-19, Seattle, has seen an increase in broadband speeds.

A press release from Verizon mentions that video gaming has increased 75 percent — the most relative to other technologies that consume bandwidth. Curiously, Verizon found that there has been no increase in the use of social media. Technologies that have experienced minor gains include video, web traffic, and VPN.

Residential internet use has use nearly doubled, according to a report on NextTV by Daniel Frankel. Sonic Fiber CEO Dane Jasper tweeted data from his California-based ISP showing that peak usage data has increased by 25 percent.

In an interview with Broadband Breakfast, Jasper said some technologies are more exposed to congestion than others.

He said this was true for cable broadband, because it is both asymmetric and shared. In other words, bandwidth varies widely throughout the day – and upload speeds may barely be enough to send an email during peak usage hours.

To hear Dane Jasper, CEO of Sonic, plus BroadbandNow Editor-in-Chief Tyler Cooper and UTOPIA Fiber CEO Roger Timmerman, tune into Broadband Breakfast Live Online: “Measuring and Understanding Bandwidth Usage During the Coronavirus,” on Friday, March 20, at 12 Noon ET.

In another unusual recent development, YouTube usage now dwarfs that of Netflix by nearly double according to a blog post on Sandvine, a network intelligence company.

Armed with these early indices of data, let’s return to the central question: Does the country have the necessary bandwidth to support Americans’ new identity as cosmonauts in cyberspace?

For example, US Telecom CEO Jonathan Spalter expressed confidence in a letter to Congress that member ISPs will be able to handle quarantine-induced bandwidth stress: “Currently more than 60 percent of network throughput is via video and content streaming. While these data flows continue to increase year-over-year, at peak hours our networks have sufficient capacity to provide customers with necessary bandwidth.”

Spalter touted the use of “internet protocol, virtualization, data centers, caching, cloud and other software-based innovations” to juggle the demand for broadband.

“We have not observed time-shifted traffic exceeding peak network capacity. Similarly, providers have not reported material congestion or internet latency issues,” Spalter said.

In an effort to free up broadband and ensure Americans’ connectivity, many ISPs have voluntarily announced no data caps and opened up their public Wi-Fi networks to non-customers, such as Comcast Xfinity.

These public Wi-Fi announcements are one of three aspects of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s “Keep America Connected” pledge.

Issued one week ago, the pledge also urged ISPs not to disconnect non-paying customers and not to charge late fees during the first 60 days of the coronavirus pandemic. Some said that the pledge does not go far enough and urged the lifting of data caps.

The web meeting service Zoom, which has seen significant increases in its use for the purposes of telework, telehealth, and tele-education, also expressed confidence in meeting the broadband demand.

According to an USA Today, Zoom said its service “was built to withstand double its daily average of users, so it should be able to serve users without interruptions.”

However, there are also some foreboding omens.

An article by the New York Times points out the problems posed by the digital divide. ”Roughly 20 percent of students have trouble with basic technology needs. Their data plans are capped, their computers break, or their connections fail; One-third of all undergraduates are enrolled in online classes now. Thirteen percent are learning exclusively online,” the article read.

Streaming has also become a hot button issue and potential data vampire. Commissioner of the European Union Thierry Breton on Wednesday implored Netflix to block its HD feature to help unclog internet infrastructure and provide more space for essential functions like work and health, according to Deadline.

Netflix responded by saying that it would strike that feature from European accounts for the time being.

“We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25 percent while also ensuring a good quality service for our members,” a Netflix spokesperson said. There has been no apparent move to do this in the U.S.

Some experts in telecom are hopeful, other remain skeptical. Will the internet be able to handle our new thirst for bandwidth? Tune in into tomorrow’s Broadband Breakfast Live with Dane Jasper to find out.

Broadband Data

Ookla Has Verizon as Fastest Q1 Fixed Provider, T-Mobile Takes Top Spot for Mobile

T-Mobile was also named the most consistent mobile operator and topped 5G download speeds.

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Image of Speedtest from May 2017 by Daniel Aleksandersen used with permission

WASHINGTON, April 18, 2022 – A market report released Friday by performance metrics web service Ookla named Verizon the fastest fixed broadband provider in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2022, and T-Mobile as the fastest mobile operator during the same period.

Verizon had a median download speed of 184.36 Mbps, edging out Comcast Xfinity’s speed of 179.12 Mbps. T-Mobile’s median mobile speed was 117.83 Mbps.

Verizon had the lowest latency of all providers, according to Ookla, well ahead of Xfinity’s fourth place ranking, yet sat at third for consistency behind both Xfinity and Spectrum.

T-Mobile was also the most consistent mobile operator during the first quarter, achieving an Ookla consistency score of 88.3 percent, which along with median download speed represented an increase from the fourth quarter of 2021.

The company also achieved the fastest median 5G download speed, coming in at 191.12 Mbps.

Verizon also notably increased its 5G download speed from its Q4 metric, attributed in part to the turning on of new C-band spectrum in January following deployment delays and protest from airlines. For mobile speeds, it stood in second behind T-Mobile, bumping AT&T to a standing of third. These rankings were the same for mobile measures of latency and consistency.

Yet on 5G availability, AT&T remains ahead of Verizon.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra came in as the fastest popular device in the country, running at 116.33 Mbps.

Ookla is a sponsor of Broadband Breakfast.

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Broadband Data

FCC’s Rosenworcel: Broadband Nutrition Labels Will Create New Generation of Informed Buyers

The FCC hopes companies will make it easier for consumers to choose a broadband plan that fits their needs.

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Photo of Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel speaking at the Mobile World Conference 2022 in Barcelona

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission’s broadband nutrition labels will usher in a new era where buyers have simple information about what they’re buying, agency Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said Friday.

Consumers should know what they’re signing up for when they spend hundreds “or even thousands” of dollars per year for internet service. She was speaking at Friday’s commission hearing on its so-called broadband nutrition label initiative.

The hearing comes on top of a public comment period on the initiative. Many providers are pushing for more flexible regulations on compliance.

When consumers choose a broadband provider for their household, Rosenworcel said may people make decisions with “sometimes incomplete and inaccurate information.”

“The problem for broadband consumers isn’t a total lack of information, but there’s loads of fine print,” Rosenworcel said. “It can be difficult to know exactly what we are paying for and these disclosures are not consistent from carrier to carrier,” which makes comparing prices and services harder and more time-consuming for consumers.

The comments built on other recent speeches by Rosenworcel promoting the initiative, encouraging state attorneys general’s ability to enforce companies’ commitments through their states’ consumer protection statutes.

The FCC began a plan in 2015 for broadband labels that was voluntary. The new initiative directed by last year’s bipartisan infrastructure law makes this effort mandatory for broadband providers.

Matt Sayre, managing director of cross sector economic development firm Onward Eugene, said residents in rural Oregon would benefit from simple information when considering broadband providers. During a time where dial-up and satellite-based offerings were primarily available, Sayre said his neighbors “never used terms like latency or packet loss.”

“These are important aspects of good internet service, but not easily understood by most people,” Sayre said. “Citizens understood they needed better service but were uncertain about what tier of service they needed. This is where broadband labels can be very helpful.”

The hearing was the agency’s first on the initiative.

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Broadband Data

Small ISP Organizations Push FCC for Flexibility on Broadband Label Compliance

Advocates say strict compliance requirements may economically harm small providers.

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Photo of outgoing WISPA CEO of Claude Aiken from April 2018 by New America used with permission

WASHINGTON, March 11, 2022 ­­– In comments submitted to the Federal Communications Commission Wednesday, organizations representing small internet providers are pushing for flexible regulations on compliance with a measure that requires clear reporting of broadband service aspects to consumers.

The measure was adopted at a late January meeting by the commission, mandating that providers list their pricing and speed information about services in the format of a “broadband nutrition label” that mimics a food nutrition label. Congress’ bipartisan infrastructure bill enacted in the fall required that the FCC adopt such policy.

The organizations that submitted comments Wednesday say that strict compliance requirements for the new measure may economically harm small providers.

Among those leading the charge are trade associations Wireless Internet Service Providers Association, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association and America’s Communications Association as well as provider Lumen Technologies.

In comments, limited resources of smaller providers were cited as factors which could disadvantage them in terms of complying with the measure to the FCC’s standards and several organizations asked for small providers to be given extra time to comply.

In separate comments, internet provider Lumen said that the FCC must make multiple changes to its approach if it is to “avoid imposing new obligations that arbitrarily impose excessive costs on providers and undermine other policy goals.”

Last month, FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said that she looks forward to increased coordination between the FCC and state attorneys general for the enforcement of the measure.

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