WASHINGTON — In late January, as China locked down some provinces to contain the spread of the coronavirus, average internet speeds in the country slowed as people who were stuck inside went online more and clogged the networks. In Hubei Province, the epicenter of infections, mobile broadband speeds fell by more than half.
In mid-February, when the virus hit Italy, Germany and Spain, internet speeds in those countries also began to deteriorate.
Quarantines around the world have made people more reliant on the internet to communicate, work, learn and stay entertained. But as the use of YouTube, Netflix, Zoom videoconferencing, Facebook calls and videogaming has surged to new highs, the stress on internet infrastructure is starting to show in Europe and the United States — and the traffic is probably far from its peak.
Some tech companies have responded to the call to ease internet traffic. YouTube, which is owned by Google, said this week that it would reduce the quality of its videos from high to standard definition across the globe.
Internet service providers said they could handle the deluge of traffic but were adding capacity. Verizon, Cox and AT&T said they were building more cell sites to strengthen mobile networks, increasing the number of fiber connections on their network backbones, and upgrading the routing and switching technology that lets devices talk to one another and share an internet connection.
To prevent clogged networks, Europe has taken the most aggressive steps.