xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement

Verizon and Comcast prepare for more at-home internet users amid coronavirus outbreak

Verizon and Comcast are preparing for additional demand for at-home internet and wireless use as more people likely will work and take online classes from home amid the spread of the new coronavirus.

Verizon said it "has not seen a measurable increase in data usage” since the outbreak of the virus.

Advertisement

“We recognize that more of our customers will be working remotely or taking classes online," the company’s Thursday statement said. “Verizon’s networks are designed and built to meet future demand and are ready should demand increase or usage patterns change significantly.”

Many colleges and universities suspended in-person classes earlier this week, switching to remote learning. Maryland officials announced Thursday that public schools would close Monday for two weeks, a move that will keep about 1 million students home in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. The state took additional steps in the wake of the state’s first case of the virus spreading within the community instead of from travel, with Gov. Larry Hogan ordering nonessential state employees to telework if possible. Some businesses are following suit.

Many of those students and workers will be relying on residential internet service to work remotely.

Verizon said “multiple layers of redundancy” have been built into the network to allow customers to communicate during critical periods.

“As a provider of essential communications products and services, maintaining the ability to effectively respond and react to a crisis is part of our ‘business as usual’ operations,” the company said. “We fully expect to be able to maintain communications with our customers, when needed.”

The Baltimore region’s other large provider of at-home data services, Comcast, said Friday it will take steps starting Monday to expand its broadband program for low-income residents.

“For millions of low-income Americans who don’t have Internet service at home, this uncertain time is going to be even more difficult to manage,” Dana Strong, Comcast Cable’s president of consumer services, said in an announcement. “As schools and businesses close and families are encouraged, or even mandated, to stay home, Internet connectivity becomes even more important.”

Comcast said it will offer its Internet Essentials service free for 60 days to any new qualified household in the provider’s footprint. The service usually costs $9.95 a month. New customers will be sent free self-install kits with a cable modem and Wi-Fi router.

Advertisement

The provider will also permanently increase Internet speeds for new and existing Internet Essentials customers. Faster speeds will be automatically rolled out nationally over the next few days.

Large networks such as Verizon FiOS, Comcast or Atlantic Broadband should have capacity to handle increased demand, the head of the Governor’s Office of Rural Broadband said Friday. Atlantic Broadband primarily serves Southern and Western Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

“Some of the smaller providers may have to increase their backhaul capacity to manage the higher demand,” Kenrick M. Gordon, director of the office, said in an email.

But he said those relying on a wireless or cellular network for internet access could experience network slowdowns because of data caps and greater difficulty in adjusting for higher usage. The state office was launched in 2018 to help expand broadband in rural areas.

In areas where a state of emergency has been declared, such as in Maryland, Verizon said it plans to keep stores open and technicians in the field, though that could change depending on guidance from local or state officials.

Verizon is urging its business and government customers to review continuity plans.

Advertisement

“For instance, many smartphones can be used as mobile hotspots which would provide an additional way to connect to the internet,” the company said. “Proper planning can help mitigate impact and assist with minimizing potential business disruptions.”

Also on Thursday, Free Press, a media reform advocacy group, called on internet providers such as Verizon, Comcast and AT&T to “do their part for the public benefit” and waive key broadband costs for those hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. The group asked providers to suspend all data caps and overage charges associated with them, and to pause all disconnects for non-payment of broadband fees during the pandemic.

“Dozens of communities from Seattle to Boston have closed local schools, sent students home and asked them to continue their studies online,” said Candace Clement, Free Press campaign director. “Employers have asked staff to work from home instead of commuting to crowded workplaces. ... We may all soon be subject to various degrees of social distancing, which will likely involve a heavier reliance on digital communications and a greater demand for data.”

Verizon said it has been closely watching network usage in parts of the U.S. most affected by the virus and planned to work with and prioritize network demand from hospitals, first responders and government agencies.

“Verizon operates its networks every day as though it’s a snow day — events when millions of Americans work from home while family members go online to watch videos, play games and talk and text to their friends and families,” Kyle Malady, Verizon’s chief technology officer, said in an announcement. “While this is an unprecedented situation, we know things are changing, and we are ready to adjust network resources as we better understand any shifts in demand.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Jean Marbella contributed to this article.

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement