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Tara Lachapelle

How's the Internet Doing? Depends Where You Look

Comcast, Verizon and others say networks are still faring well, but some cities aren't seeing that. We need better data.

Our internet can handle all this extra demand, right?

Our internet can handle all this extra demand, right?

Photographer: Marco Piunti/iStockphoto

As Americans stay home to thwart the invisible threat of a virus lurking beyond their windows, they’ve become even more dependent upon something else they cannot see or feel: the internet. U.S. data networks — an intricate system of cables and towers and signals weaving throughout our country — are being put to the ultimate test in a nationwide work-from-home experiment that hinges entirely on these networks’ health and adaptability.

As residents shelter in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus, the surge in demand that internet providers would expect to see gradually over the course of an entire year has instead hit in a matter of weeks. That’s because of all the work-from-home applications, calls and texts to check in with loved ones, Netflix binge-watching and virtual exercise classes and doctor’s visits. AT&T Inc. reported that traffic on its core network was up 23% on Sunday, April 5, from a comparable day in February. Comcast Corp. said its peak traffic jumped more than 30% in March, and in some larger metropolitan areas, such as Chicago and San Francisco, it climbed as much as 60%. While streaming-video consumption is on the rise, data usage for gaming has more than doubled, according to Verizon Communications Inc.