May 4, 2021 - Technology

Broadband usage will keep growing post-pandemic

Average broadband consumption per household
Data: OpenVault; Chart: Will Chase/Axios

Increased broadband usage is a pandemic trend that's here to say, analysts and telecom executives argue.

The big picture: Broadband usage increased 40% over the past year, the highest annual growth rate in nearly 10 years, according to new data from OpenVault. The massive jump is attributed to people spending more time at home with their devices, primarily streaming video.

  • "We predict that by December 2021, the average broadband consumption per household will be around 600-650 gigabytes," says Mark Trudeau, founder and CEO of OpenVault, a broadband data and analytics solutions provider.
  • That's more than six times the average broadband consumption level since 2015.

Driving the news: Comcast said last week that it anticipates it will see double-digit growth in broadband additions this year compared to 2019, which prior to the pandemic was its best year ever.

  • In the first quarter of 2021, it added 461,000 broadband customers, helping to offset the heavy losses from its Pay-TV business. Comcast Chief Financial Officer Mike Cavanagh said that time period "marked the lowest broadband churn in our history."
  • Speaking to broadband spike trends, Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg told analysts "The demand for broadband will continue. We are just starting a total revolution of using technology, which is scalable and sustainable in the post era of the COVID."

What's happening: High-speed internet access became vital for school and work during the pandemic, with lawmakers and the Biden administration citing it as a key part of the nation's infrastructure.

  • Congress created a $3.2 billion Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which launches May 12, that will give low-income households a $50 monthly subsidy for internet service.

Yes, but: President Biden has said long-term subsidies are not the answer to covering the cost of “overpriced” internet service.

  • Instead, his $100 billion broadband plan calls for lowering the prices for all Americans, raising concerns from the telecom sector about potential price regulation.

Be smart: Broadband providers agreed last year to not kick anyone off of their internet plans who couldn't pay because of the pandemic as part of the FCC's Keep Americans Connected pledge.

What's next: On Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing on broadband equity that will address disparities in access and affordability.

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