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Internet home download speed has slowed during the COVID 19 pandemic in dozens of the largest US cities, with millions of Americans staying home due to school and business closings. Typical download speeds, however, remain high enough to support normal broadband usage patterns, with the vast majority of cities still above the Federal Communications Commission's 25Mbps standard.
In 88 of the 200 most populous US cities, Internet users "had some network degradation last week compared to 10 weeks earlier," BroadbandNow said in a report released on Wednesday. Of these, 27 cities suffered speed reductions of at least 20 percent.
Speed in New York City dropped 24 percent, with the average download speed dropping to 51.93 Mbps – still enough for bandwidth-intensive services like streaming video. While New York City has been hard hit by the spread of the novel corona virus, the city's broadband experience is not repeated everywhere. In Seattle, where the virus is also widespread, download speeds have not slowed, although the speeds in Seattle were already lower than in New York City. The latest average download speed in Seattle was 27.1 Mbit / s, while the average results in Seattle in the past 10 weeks have been between 20.8 Mbit / s and 29.1 Mbit / s.
"Three cities – Austin, Texas, Winston-Salem, North Carolina and Oxnard, California – have seen significant deterioration and have dropped more than 40 percent from their ten-week range," the report said.
The report compared the average download speeds between March 15th and March 21st with the average speeds observed weekly since January 1st. A city’s download speeds were considered out of range only if the median of the past week was below the lowest of the past 10 weeks. Check out the report to see the results of all 200 cities.
Despite strong slowdowns in some cities, BroadbandNow offered a positive finding: "Users in most of the cities we analyzed should experience normal network conditions, which indicates that ISPs (and their networks) can withstand changing demand."
BroadbandNow is a company that provides an online tool to check broadband availability. The company's analysis was based on M-Lab's speed test data.
DSL and upload speeds can cause problems
As BroadbandNow focused on the 200 largest cities, the report focuses primarily on cable and fiber links. The report said: "It remains to be seen whether rural communities that rely on older technologies such as DSL will continue to enjoy the same relative stability," as measured in large cities.
Another limitation of the report is that only download speeds were specified. While fiber optic telecommunications generally offer symmetrical upload and download speeds, DSL and cable networks offer upload speeds that are much slower than downloads. The increasing use of video conferencing by more people working at home can cause problems in networks with slow upload speeds.
Verizon, which provides Internet services for home users and mobile devices, said yesterday that "it sees tremendous use in our networks as our customers find new and important ways to stay connected." For example, Verizon said that collaboration tools grew 47 percent in a week. However, the ISP said its network had enough capacity to meet demand.
Netflix and YouTube both started lowering video streaming quality in Europe last week after being pressured by a European government official, although ISPs said their networks had held up well. Netflix hasn't done the same thing in the U.S., but Bloomberg reported that YouTube has since expanded its policies worldwide. When I tested this today, YouTube videos were streamed at 720 by default, but it was still possible to manually change the quality of individual videos to 1080p or 4K.
Another sign that networks are largely doing well came from ThousandEyes, a provider of network analysis software. The company announced Monday that there has been only a slight increase in outages and some performance degradation in the past three weeks. "Despite massive increases in traffic – particularly in consumer last-mile networks – we haven't seen a significant corresponding increase in internet outages that can occur when traffic loads network capacity," the company said.