ISPS, Online Services Respond As Covid-19 Increases Demand For Remote Services

As the Covid-19 pandemic forces office workers to work from home to prevent further spread of the pandemic, Internet networks and online services are preparing for the crush of telecommuters and remote learners.

A coalition of 17 US senators wrote a letter to the heads of the largest broadband providers, demanding that they remove usage caps in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most US broadband service providers have signed on to the US Federal Communications Commission’s Keep America Connected pledge, which requires them to 1) not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic; (2) waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and (3) open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

AT&T and Comcast, the two largest telco and cable broadband service providers, respectively, in the US, have both announced plans to beef up home Internet services. Comcast plans to boost its basic Internet Essentials service to 25 Mbps downloads and 3 Mbps uploads, up from the current 15 and 2. Comcast is also offering the service, targeted at low-income families, free for 60 days. AT&T is suspending the usage caps, which range from 150 GB to 1 TB of data per month, on all of its accounts. The ISP usually charges $10 for every 50 MB used over the cap.

But how well will home Internet services hold up to increased usage from telecommuters and students accessing coursework over the Internet. Verizon, which serves about 7 million home Internet customers in the US, claims its network, which is built well ahead of customer demand can handle it while also acknowledging this is a new scenario.

Whether corporate VPNs can hold up to the strain is another story. Most are not designed to be used by the entire company at once. ExpressVPN, one of the best known firms in this space, recommends connecting by Ethernet cable or sit as close to the router as possible to get the best at-home performance.

Amidst the rising number of employees working from home, communication and productivity software providers are offering their products free of charge. COVID-19 has led companies to implement agile working policies, however many of these firms struggle to ensure worker productivity and to keep open-communications with stay-at-home employees.

Microsoft recently made the paid features in Teams, a productivity and communications tool, available to all for free for the next six months to make remote working easier. Amongst the free features includes the capability to schedule Teams meeting for audio calling. Similarly, Google is offering its G suite productivity app for free until July 1st 2020.

Firms that already offer free productivity tools are further expanding their services. For example, Zoom, a teleconferencing app, has extended free trial periods and has removed its free 40-minute time limit for every user in China. Zoom is also offering its services for free to school and educational institutions all over the world due universities switching to online teaching. Slack, a messaging app for workplaces, has been hosting free consultations for companies adapting to remote working for the first time.

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