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In light of the recent circumstances which were instigated by the novel Coronavirus epidemic, many businesses and educational institutions have been forced to take to the internet to go about their daily duties.

Since the majority of the world has been forced into lockdown, schools and universities were catapulted into digital transformation which has given rise to e-learning substitutes while employees of large and small businesses alike, were told to work from home. Meetings, conferences and even events have all taken place via conference calling platforms. This has resulted in an increased dependency on broadband, placing its importance on a higher pedestal than ever before.

With the shift to taking everything online, it is crucial that students and employees have reliable internet connection in order to ensure the utmost efficiency.

Since the pandemic has been affecting entire industries, putting companies at risk and threatening jobs, there is now an increased demand for not just reliable internet connection, but guaranteeing its accessibility to everyone who really needs it and this challenge is not likely to disappear overnight.

Broadband brings with it a vast array of opportunities and this is especially important to rural areas.

Healthcare

In this new environment, the role of telehealth has never been more important. Telehealth is a tremendous opportunity for healthcare workers as it provides them with the ability to care for a patient remotely hence limiting the need for person-to-person contact, which would in turn reduce the risk of infection.

The use of telehealth has made great strides in fighting COVID-19. It ensures that patients can be treated quickly, efficiently and safely.

In the US for instance, the FCC approved a telehealth program which was worth USD$200 million in an effort to help healthcare providers to gain access to technology, broadband connectivity and other devices which were instrumental in providing telehealth services. This ensures that things can be done in the most efficient possible manner, that hospital beds are free for those who critically need them and of course reduces exposure to the coronavirus.

The reliance on telehealth services, if not managed properly, can further emphasize the digital divide between people in urban and rural areas. Rural communities without access to proper and reliable broadband services with residents who are of old age, are veterans or just people with pre-existing medical conditions and may indeed suffer in this situation. So it is important they are have access to reliable high-speed internet so as not to be excluded from these services.

Education

The right to an education is increasingly vital in today’s world. With the current stay-at-home policies in place, it is now more important than ever to ensure that all students have access to reliable internet. It may still be the case that lots of households might not have adequate internet access or even access to proper devices. This only furthers the digital divide which could severely affect one’s education at a time like this.

Since all students are learning remotely, ensuring that there is no ‘homework gap’ is crucial so digital opportunities must expand in rural areas especially.

Business

As billions of people are staying home, many organizations all over the world have had to employ measures to ensure they are not contributing to the spread of the virus. This has led them to cancel major industry events, enforce work from home policies and employee travel bans. Companies have been planning and protecting themselves from potential threats to the continuity of their business.

COVID-19 has changed the very definition of business as we know it. Meetings and events are taking place via the internet and people have been using their own home broadband to work. The pandemic has essentially accelerated changes in work that were bound to take place or were already changing. This is especially prevalent in the education sector, as e-learning and remote learning solutions were available for quite some time but were not put to use until absolutely necessary, which is obviously during this time.

From the employee perspective, many salary cuts have been issued and lots of people have even lost their jobs. With an increase in unemployment rates, people will probably be applying for jobs despite the tough circumstances which would still account for a surge in home broadband traffic.

In terms of rural areas, employees who are under pressure of keeping their jobs, will need access to reliable internet in order to work efficiently. If employees in rural areas don’t have access to even the most basic home internet, this could place their job at further risk when it is essentially not them who is at fault for the limited infrastructure in that given area. This is also very crucial to business continuity.

Can the internet cope with this demand?

Online consumerism must also be at an all-time high with more people streaming, video calling on several apps to keep up with family and friends and even online shopping to avoid going outside.

Service providers of broadband and wireless connectivity have been withstanding an unprecedented spike in demand due to remote working and learning. Service providers have said that the internet traffic in residential areas has increased dramatically during the times of the day when people would typically be at work or school. While this might be a lot for them to handle, it has not resulted in many widespread outages or serious disruptions to the connectivity.

However, a few weeks ago, five major Spanish-based operators signed a letter which warned that their networks may not be able to handle the traffic as it increased to about 40 percent through IP networks along with a 50 percent spike in voice calls. They were urging consumers to use the internet in a more responsible manner.

In response to this, many streaming platforms have reduced their streaming bit rates across the entirety of Europe to help control internet traffic amid the pandemic. Streaming platforms which were involved in this move were Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, Facebook and Apple TV+.

“What has mostly happened so far is an increase in broadband usage during the day. So there are a lot more gigabytes going over the network, but they are doing so when the network wasn’t busy, which makes it broadly manageable. I’m fairly confident that providers will be able to deal with this trend,” said telecoms analyst James Barford in reference to this.

Operators in the UK and the US echoed this sentiment.

Barford previously forecasted that operators would need to fix the problems which were related to the physical copper-based network but also recommended that deploying a full-fiber broadband network would be a more suitable and reliable solution for the future.

“The current situation, if anything, emphasizes the need for full-fiber rollout in the UK. The advantage is not just speed; it’s also resilience. Full-fiber has much few, and much easier to fix, network faults,” said Barford in reference to the UK’s existing infrastructure.

COVID-19 has caused mass disruption to the entire global economy. It is important that rural areas are provided with proper and reliable broadband in order to minimize the disruption, ensure business continuity and bridge the gap of the digital divide to ensure that everyone is offered the same education and telehealth facilities that are broadband reliant. 

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