Have you noticed that Netflix has been having streaming issues while you’re binge-watching your favorite show? How about connectivity problems during a Zoom call? Or longer-than-usual wait times when loading up a page while online shopping? Have you had trouble downloading big work files? These aren’t one-off problems. And, today, they are often symptoms of a much larger issue — something is going terribly wrong with residential connectivity across the United States.
The coronavirus has sent over a hundred million Americans home — to work, to play, to learn and to shop. Thanks to decades of deferred investment in universal broadband infrastructure, this increased home internet use is killing our connection speeds across the country. Adding insult to injury, these speed degradations appear to be especially acute in rural areas and areas that already have poor broadband service.
Right now, an international consortium of network scientists is collecting 750,000 U.S. broadband speed tests from internet service provider (ISP) customers each day, and we’ve been tracking a stunning loss of connectivity speeds to people’s homes. According to most ISPs, the core network is handling the extra load. But our data show that the last-mile network infrastructure appears to be falling down on the job.
During the last half of February 2020, our research shows that 1,708 counties (52.8 percent) in the U.S. had median download speeds that did not meet the Federal Communication Commission’s minimum criteria to qualify as “broadband” connectivity.