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Measuring the Internet 13 May 2020

The Internet Is Resilient Enough to Withstand Coronavirus – But There’s a Catch

David Belson
By David BelsonFormer Senior Director, Internet Research and Analysis

Earlier this year, as COVID-19 began to dominate our lives, the world turned to the Internet. This sudden shift to distance learning, working from home, and families sheltering in place drove up online streaming demand, placing additional load on Internet application platforms like Zoom, Netflix, and educational tools such as Kahoot. There was also a dramatic traffic increase across supporting network providers.

Faced with the specter of millions of daily Zoom calls and endless hours of Netflix binging, many wondered if the Internet could handle the strain of such rapid traffic growth and increased latency. Would it cause a catastrophic failure of the Internet? Our answer then: not likely.

But were we right? As the world is now more than a month into mandatory lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, with anticipated growth in application platform usage, media consumption, and overall Internet traffic, we can now state:

No – increased Internet usage will not cause a catastrophic Internet failure.

As expected, the Internet has remained resilient. There is no single “Internet” to catastrophically fail, thanks to its foundational “network of networks” architecture.

This architecture means that many interconnected participants all have a role in keeping the Internet resilient:

  • Subscriber (“last mile”) network providers, including community networks
  • Backbone network providers
  • Internet Exchange Points (IXPs)
  • Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)
  • Application platform and content providers

Each Zoom call, Netflix video, and Kahoot quiz relies on this architecture to work the way it should.

However, the past couple of months have made it clear that there has been a different catastrophic failure: the failure to make “last mile” broadband connectivity widely accessible and affordable.

This is to say nothing of the divide found in developing countries, where Internet access is even more limited or may be altogether absent. This last mile digital divide has led to Internet connections that struggle to support professional videoconferencing, media-heavy educational tools, or streaming video, especially when used concurrently. Students who have no usable Internet access at home can be found sitting outside schools and libraries, accessing the WiFi to complete their assignments.

In upcoming blog posts, we will review observations, measurements, and statistics from across the industry to examine the trends seen by the participants listed above, and look at how they are handling increased usage. We will also look at how countries around the world are recognizing the importance of available and affordable Internet connectivity, and the steps that they are taking to close the digital divide.

Learn more about the Internet Society’s 2020 Action Plan Projects, and get involved.


Image by Chris Montgomery via Unsplash

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Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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