If you’ve been working from home during the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic, you’ve probably noticed a tech glitch or two. Maybe your coworker’s face froze in a Zoom meeting, or you watched a YouTube video that seemed grainier than normal. These might seem like telltale signs that the internet in the US is struggling to support a sustained and unprecedented surge in use from millions of homebound computer users. The actual story of what’s going on is more complicated than that.
There’s been a surge in internet traffic in recent weeks, only part of which is due to more people working from home. That was happening on a smaller scale before the pandemic. As state and local governments have imposed lockdowns across the country, people are now doing everything from home, and a lot of it’s online. People are playing video games online; they’re doing video calls; they’re watching nerve-wrenching press conferences; and yes, they’re surely working part of the time. All that bandwidth adds up.
Despite the internet being an American invention, the US does not have the world’s best internet. So as more people started using the internet more often during the pandemic, it’s warranted that some — tech journalists, internet enthusiasts, and, to a much lesser degree, engineers — have been wringing their hands over whether our network infrastructure can handle a huge spike in traffic. Even Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted this week that his company,