Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

With the in-person economy in the U.S. essentially shut down, the internet has never been more critical. The key question now is how well the network can handle the unprecedented demand.

Why it matters: Europe's networks have already come under strain, and if cloud services and internet service providers here falter, "shelter in place" could get a lot rougher.

Driving the news:

The big picture:

  • With stores shuttered, the Internet has emerged as a vital lifeline for goods, and Amazon has had to prioritize essentials to keep shipments moving, while online grocery services have also seen long wait times and plenty of items are out of stock.
  • Social networks and video chat services have become a key way to stay in touch with friends and family and avoid isolation amid the physical distancing, something mental health experts say is also of critical importance.
  • Remote classes for students whose schools are closed, telehealth services for medical consultations, and online performances by artists who can't take the live stage are all simultaneously ramping up, potentially pushing the limits of network capacity.

Where it stands: Based on network performance so far, Americans don’t have to worry about Europe’s broadband issues arising here, Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr told Axios.

  • “The performance of the networks up to now doesn’t give any indication that we’re going to be in that type of situation,” Carr, a Republican, said. “There’s nothing in the current traffic patterns and traffic flows that suggest that.”
  • The agency is in close contact with providers, who so far report that peak usage levels are lasting over a longer period of time, and network traffic is moving from downtown urban cores to suburban areas, Carr said.
  • Carr credits the strength of the U.S. broadband networks with a regulatory environment he says incentivizes investment.

A number of Internet service providers echoed Carr's optimism. Comcast chief business development officer Sam Schwartz said his company has seen an increase in video conferencing, video streaming and VPN usage as people try to work and learn from home.

  • "’I've spoken to many of our partners about the experience of their employees using Xfinity to work from home, and generally reports are good," Schwartz said. "We’re also working with major websites, streaming services, and other ISPs to ensure traffic is handled as well as possible."
  • AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, speaking on CNN's Reliable Sources, said: "We're having to go out and do some augmentation of networks, and so we're sending our employees out to get that done, but right now, the network is performing quite well."
  • USTelecom, an industry trade association, said Friday providers have not seen “shifted traffic exceeding peak network capacity” or congestion or latency issues.

Fun fact: Wireless voice traffic is up 25% at Verizon. AT&T, meanwhile, said wireless voice traffic on Friday was up 40% compared to a typical Friday, while voice calls over wi-fi networks have doubled.

  • It appears a global pandemic is what it takes to make people want to actually talk to one another. (AT&T, however, does not plan to revive its 1980s slogan: "Reach out and touch someone.")
  • Data usage on AT&T's wireless network, though, was largely flat as more people connected via their home wi-fi, offsetting increased overall Internet demand.

Yes, but: Some are concerned about how well the networks will hold up as more Americans stay home. FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel would like to see detailed daily reporting from the broadband service providers, as they offer during natural disasters and other emergencies.

  • The coronavirus crisis will "stress our networks in new ways," Rosenworcel said, "and it’s important for the public to know how they are performing. This is especially important to do now because these are the networks we are all counting on for some semblance of modern life."

Our thought bubble: As hard as things are right now, just think how much better off we are now than if this crisis happened two decades ago, before Amazon Prime, streaming video and video conferencing — and before the network delivering all these services had been built up to the speed and capacity they require.

Go deeper

Biden: The next president should decide on Ginsburg’s replacement

Joe Biden. Photo: Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Joe Biden is calling for the winner of November's presidential election to select Ruth Bader Ginsburg's replacement on the Supreme Court.

What he's saying: "[L]et me be clear: The voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice for the Senate to consider," Biden said. "This was the position the Republican Senate took in 2016 when there were almost 10 months to go before the election. That's the position the United States Senate must take today, and the election's only 46 days off.

Trump, McConnell to move fast to replace Ginsburg

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

President Trump will move within days to nominate his third Supreme Court justice in just three-plus short years — and shape the court for literally decades to come, top Republican sources tell Axios.

Driving the news: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans are ready to move to confirm Trump's nominee before Election Day, just 46 days away, setting up one of the most consequential periods of our lifetimes, the sources say.

Updated 5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 30,393,591 — Total deaths: 950,344— Total recoveries: 20,679,272Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. ET: 6,722,699 — Total deaths: 198,484 — Total recoveries: 2,556,465 — Total tests: 92,163,649Map.
  3. Politics: In reversal, CDC again recommends coronavirus testing for asymptomatic people.
  4. Health: Massive USPS face mask operation called off The risks of moving too fast on a vaccine.
  5. Business: Unemployment drop-off reverses course 1 million mortgage-holders fall through safety netHow the pandemic has deepened Boeing's 737 MAX crunch.
  6. Education: At least 42% of school employees are vulnerable.