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Broadband in the Time of COVID-19 PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 18 May 2020 06:23

Rising to the challenge and meeting the moment. That is the message our small, competitive local broadband and communications service providers are sending to their customers during the COVID-19 crisis.

Chip Pickering, the CEO of INCOMPAS, has provided insight into their members and industry leaders, and how they are progressing in this time of COVID-19.

“Their response has been incredible. In a short time, we’ve seen our members building new telehealth virus screening apps, creating new work-at and learn-from home solutions, investing in medical research technology, expanding bandwidth and helping turn school buses into WiFi hotspots to make sure millions of students stay connected.”

The competitive broadband and communications industry is proving once again that it’s the leader in delivering next-generation services that connect communities to faster speeds and affordable prices.

Without question, broadband is a critical, lifesaving service. Our local and regional providers serve schools, hospitals, health clinics, small businesses and families that depend on fast, reliable internet access and communications services now more than ever. Our networks also boost other, larger ISPs’ service and help ensure redundancy in case of emergency.

Our fiber builders – like FirstLight, C Spire, Sonic and dozens more in the heartland – are working around the clock to ensure America’s internet infrastructure is fully operating and that their employees and customers stay healthy and safe. Dozens of our members signed the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” Pledge to help ensure residential and small business customers don’t get cut off or charged late fees due to circumstances arising from coronavirus and related economic disruption. Our members with WiFi hot spots are also committed to making them open and available for public use.

INCOMPAS also represents streamers like Netflix and Amazon, internet companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Twitter, and competitive national providers like Dish and Granite. To help meet the Coronavirus crisis these members are innovating and extending care to heath workers, content creators and journalists reporting from the front lines.


Network Performance


During COVID-19, our member companies are seeing higher network demands as schools and businesses shift to educating and working remotely. But the crisis is impacting different networks in different ways.

In the first month of the crisis our ISPs saw a 25% increase in residential use, where new gigabit speed fiber networks have helped families working and schooling from home. The key point: fiber is not only faster, it’s stronger.

However, we also saw a 35% to 40% decline in network usage that serves small and medium-sized business, hospitals, cell towers and government agencies, which is consistent with more employees working from home and children distance learning. Voice service also dropped between 10% and 25%, illustrating the important reliance on voice networks at work and the shifting of voice to mobile use at home.

Our streaming and internet edge service providers have seen large increases in demand. And good news to report here, because our internet companies were well prepared and have been engineered to handle increased network demands.

It’s important to note that no network is an island. Competitive networks play a critical role in the internet ecosystem. They are interconnected to other networks to provide seamless communications. Fiber networks are working well to serve the needs of their customers, including homes and hospitals on the front lines. As are regional fiber networks that connect cell towers, boost other ISPs’ services with connectivity, and enable faster streaming and cloud content have plenty of capacity.


The Broadband Recovery

As the economy struggles, loss of revenue for providers could upset the balance, and harm network connectivity and deployment goals at the worst possible time. There are two critical things we must do to protect our networks, families, and small businesses:


  1. Protect Connectivity. The ability to maintain connectivity and continue to build broadband is under threat due to the number of customers who cannot pay their communications bills. In addition to providing new connectivity to those in need, such as school children and low-income consumers, Congress should reinforce the networks through a Critical Connectivity Fund that addresses the needs of residential and businesses who cannot pay their communications service providers. Doing so will ensure that every customer stays connected to their provider and will help speed the recovery when businesses open. 

  2. Congress should make broadband deployment central to any recovery or stimulus effort. We should be investing in broadband networks and 5G infrastructure. Simply put, broadband provides more bang for the buck. Building new networks puts people to work in every local community. And the networks provide greater capacity and faster speeds at lower price points for consumers and small businesses who really need the help.

COVID-19 recovery will be a long road. But shoring up our communications networks, investing in broadband infrastructure, and ensuring competition keeps prices low is the best way to help our friends, neighbors and small businesses recover.

Chip Pickering is the CEO of INCOMPAS, the internet and competitive networks association. He is a former Member of Congress from Mississippi. INCOMPAS is the leading trade group advocating for competition policy across all networks. INCOMPAS represents Internet, streaming, communications and technology companies large and small, advocating for laws and policies that promote competition, innovation and economic development. Throughout the year, INCOMPAS also provides opportunities to learn, grow business and network at annual events, including The INCOMPAS Show, taking place September 14-16 at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.



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