Tech & Telecom Networks Support America through COVID-19

Katie McAuliffe

Amidst the panic and uncertainty of the Covid-19 crisis, a silver lining has been the resilience shown by the American people. The doctors, nurses, and paramedics fighting Covid-19 on the frontlines are being praised for their public service. However, with resources already stretched thin, medical service workers need support from both the public and private sectors in a time like this. They cannot do it on their own.

Fortunately, the past few weeks have featured many examples of the private sector stepping up to contribute in the fight against Covid-19. Paints and coating maker, PPG donated 80,000 masks to hospitals, Apple committed to donating 10 million masks, Ford is manufacturing ventilators and medical equipment, Tesla is repurposing a factory to manufacture medical equipment, SoftBank is donating 1.4 million respirator masks to the state of New York. The list goes on and on.

Tech and telecom companies play critical roles in the communications networks that connect society. Although those networks have seen unprecedented strain during the Covid-19 crisis, they have held up remarkably well. This is a testament to the scale of investment in U.S. communications networks and the work that goes into maintaining them.

To combat the Covid-19 epidemic, tech companies are committing vast quantities of money and computing resources towards helping the medical supply chain stay afloat. One example of this is the COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium, a coalition of public and private sector entities that are working to use data to help researchers and medical workers address the crisis.

The COVID-19 High Performance Computing Consortium will commit “an unprecedented amount of computing power—16 systems with more than 330 petaflops, 775,000 CPU cores, 34,000 GPUs, and counting — to help researchers everywhere better understand COVID-19, its treatments and potential cures.” Industry partners involved in the Covid-19 High Performance Computing Consortium are IBM, Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, Microsoft, and Hewlett Packard.

Wireline and wireless broadband networks are responding to Covid-19 by keeping the networks running smoothly, supporting displaced customers, and committing valuable resources to the fight against the virus. Fortunately, going in to this crisis, as of mid-2018, 98.6 percent of Americans have access to a fixed network; 99.8 percent have access to a mobile network; and satellite is available to nearly all consumers. 

USTelecom, a broadband association, is tracking the increase in network uses over wireline broadband networks, and American networks are handling the strain in stride. USTelecom reports that Measuring against a “normal” baseline, USTelecom members have analyzed the traffic across their wireline networks and report that total traffic increased this week by a range of 17.3% to 37.4%, with an average increase of 25.5% and a median increase of 25%.

Their ability to handle this additional strain would not have been possible without the $80 billion in investment that happened in 2018 after the Federal Communications Commission reversed the so-called net neutrality rules.

CTIA, the Wireless Association, is updating their website daily with reports on what wireless carriers are doing to keep Americans connected, and weekly on the additional traffic these networks are bearing successfully. Over the major carriers, mobile voice traffic during COVID has increased between 7% and 24.3% compared to average usage pre the crisis, while mobile data traffic usage has increased between 0.7% and 9.2% compared to average data traffic over mobile networks. For example, AT&T reports wireless voice is up 28% and Wi-Fi calling minutes are up 84% from the pre-crisis average usage baselines.

Comcast is “providing unlimited data to its customers for no extra charge and is not disconnecting internet service or charging late fees for customers who say they can’t pay their bills.” They are also allowing 60 days of free access to their Xfinity Wifi hotspots to subscribers and non-subscribers.

Charter is offering free Spectrum Internet and WiFi access for 60 days to households with K-12 and/or college students, and now educators, who do not already have a Spectrum Internet subscription and opened up its WiFi hotspots for public use. Charter will also not disconnect any of its customers who are facing COVID related hardships.

AT&T is waiving late fees and suspending termination of services for customers who are unable to pay bills due to complications caused by Covid-19. They are also providing free public access to their Wi-Fi hot spots and have committed to providing “all consumer home internet wireline customers and fixed wireless internet customers” with unlimited data during the crisis. 

Verizon is “implementing a significantly enhanced compensation plan for the company’s dedicated employees who must deploy outside their homes to meet critical customer needs.” They are also waiving late fees and cancelations for customers facing disruptions related to Covid-19.

T-Mobile is providing 60 days of unlimited data to all mobile customers. They are also committing additional data and resources towards their low-income assistance program, Lifeline, and their school-partnership program, EmpowerED. They are also launching a $15/month plan, which has been planned for some time, to lower costs for consumers.

Other internet providers lifting data caps on customers are CenturyLink, Cox, and Google.

Photo Credit: Flickr – Prachatai