The Internet is not Ready for Coronavirus
The morning after my university announced classes would be moved online because of the coronavirus, the power went out on campus. It was restored just a few hours later, but the outage was a stark reminder of how dependent we are on our electrical and online infrastructure as more and more of us are moving to remote learning and work.
Just as our public health system appears unable to cope with the spread of the coronavirus, our residential broadband, video conferencing platforms and VPNs are about to face unprecedented strain. That strain will have serious consequences, not just for the performance of our broadband networks but also for student access to education and the security of corporate data and networks.
Many organizations, including my own, are counting on video conferencing tools to replace in-person interactions. Companies concerned about proprietary business information will also be relying on virtual private networks to protect their employees’ remote work activities, meaning that VPN servers will bear a significant increase in traffic. And all of us working or learning from home will have to rely on residential broadband networks to provide access to these tools and services.
The United States is in much better shape to handle this increased online activity than other countries. In 2011, the Federal Communications Commission began collecting extensive data on the performance of residential broadband networks and found that most service providers are generally providing customers with the speeds they advertise. Reassuringly, most service providers that the F.C.C. tracked do not see a huge falloff in performance during peak hours, from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m., when online traffic typically increases to its highest volumes in residential areas.