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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

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: WHO: AstraZeneca vaccine must be evaluated on "more than a press release."
  2. Politics: McConnell temporarily halts in-person lunches for GOP caucus.
  3. Economy: Safety nets to disappear in DecemberAmazon hires 1,400 workers a day throughout pandemic.
  4. Education: U.S. public school enrollment drops as pandemic persists.
  5. Cities: Surge in cases forces San Francisco to impose curfew — Los Angeles County issues stay-at-home order, limits gatherings.
  6. Sports: NFL bans in-person team activities Monday, Tuesday due to COVID-19 surge — NBA announces new coronavirus protocols.
  7. World: London police arrest more than 150 during anti-lockdown protests — Thailand, Philippines sign deal with AstraZeneca for vaccine.

Tony Hsieh, longtime Zappos CEO, dies at 46

Tony Hsieh. Photo: FilmMagic/FilmMagic

Tony Hsieh, the longtime ex-chief executive of Zappos, died on Friday after being injured in a house fire, his lawyer told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He was 46.

The big picture: Hsieh was known for his unique approach to management, and following the 2008 recession his ongoing investment and efforts to revitalize the downtown Las Vegas area.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
15 hours ago - Economy & Business

The unicorn stampede is coming

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Airbnb and DoorDash plan to go public in the next few weeks, capping off a very busy year for IPOs.

What's next: You ain't seen nothing yet.

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