With millions of families quarantined inside their homes, telecommunication networks have never been more important for work, study and play.
Internet service providers typically build infrastructure that is designed to handle peak periods of unusually high traffic, and the coronavirus shutdown is just such a time.
“Our networks are built to exceed maximum capacity during peak evening usage,” said Heidi Vandenbrouck, senior communications manager for Charter Communications — New England. “We are continuously monitoring our networks 24-7 and consulting regularly with other connectivity providers. We have seen some increased daytime network activity, especially in areas with larger COVID-19 closures, but levels remain well below capacity and typical peak evening usage.”
Charter provides customers with cable, television and internet services through the trade name Spectrum, and is based out of Stamford, Conn.
Increased traffic is also being monitored by Windstream Communications, an internet service provider to many area residents headquartered in Little Rock, Ark.
“Our network is certainly equipped to handle the higher usage,” said Susan Schraibman, president of Windstream operations in New York. “Our company is seeing approximately a 50% increase in voice traffic and approximately 30% increase in data since about mid March. Certainly that is due to folks working and learning from home. The network is very equipped to tolerate that.”
Field technicians and engineers working to make sure that internet infrastructure stays online during this time are currently dealing with increased workloads as well.
“Certainly our days are much busier,” Schraibman said. “As people are working from home we are seeing an increase in the number of inquiries for our broadband services and certainly our technicians are responding to that need. They understand the importance of providing our broadband service to our customers.”
Windstream is primarily a provider for more rural areas, and has been well prepared to aid customers living outside of urban centers, Schraibman said. All field technicians for the company are following guidelines from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, and are rescheduling appointments for households that may have residents with coronavirus.
Efforts are also being made to increase the availability of internet service for online education, and to lower the financial burden for customers who may be out of work during the shutdown. In a recent news release, Charter announced that it would be expanding the eligibility for its 60-day free offer for Spectrum broadband, including educators who do not already have an account. The statement explains that, “Now more than ever, Americans rely on high speed broadband in nearly every aspect of their lives and Charter is committed to ensuring our more than 29 million customers maintain reliable access to the online resources and information they want and need.”
Charter also offers the Spectrum Internet Assist program, which is available to low-income households.
Windstream has signed the Keep Americans Connected Pledge issued by the Federal Communications Commission.
“So through May 12 we will not terminate services to residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus,” Schraibman said. “We are also waiving any late fees that residential and small business customers incur. We have a federal lifeline program that is available to assist low-income customers, and we work with our customers on a case-by-case basis.”
With the facts and figures of the coronavirus outbreak changing day-by-day, service providers are preparing for different timetables down the road.
“We know it is a very dynamic situation, and certainly everyday we address whatever questions and concerns come up,” Schraibman said. “As I mentioned, we are seeing an increase in the volume and have been able to manage and provide service to our customers.”
For Windstream, this has not meant a change in design plans for the Jamestown area. The company is still in the process of building out its fiber optic wiring in the area, and expects that some customers will see increased data speeds shortly.
“We have been making significant investments, and this all started before the coronavirus. We are excited about the fact that barring any other unforeseen events we do expect to make gig service available to about 15,000 consumer customers in Jamestown in about 30 days,” Schraibman said.
Gigabit service through fiber optic cables will allow for a significant increase in broadband speeds.
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