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Internet providers brace for increased demand as schools move to remote learning

Coronavirus

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – As more than 100,000 public school students prepare for remote learning next week – along with thousands of college students – area data providers are preparing for a massive demand on internet bandwidth.

Jeff Lavery, a spokesperson for Cox Communications said they are already seeing “a slight uptick in total traffic,” but so far things are running smoothly.

“Our focus is to help keep everyone connected during this unprecedented time,” Lavery said in an email. “With remote workers and students learning from home top of mind.”

Lavery said if they identify a network that has reached capacity, they will accelerate “network upgrade plans in the impacted areas.”

“This could include splitting nodes, pulling additional fiber, equipment swaps and/or core network changes, all of which add capacity to the area,” he said. “A node typically serves 500 homes but if that node experiences high levels of usage, we will split the node … to serve less homes per node thus providing more bandwidth to each group.”

On the customer’s end, Cox said they won’t terminate any service “because of an inability to pay their bills due to disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic.” He said they are also eliminating any caps on plans that have a data limit (those with unlimited plans will receive credits).

A spokesperson for Verizon provided a link to a COVID-19 section of their website that assured customers “this is an unprecedented event but we feel confident we have built our networks ahead of consumer demand and prepare as if every day is a snow day.”

“We continually evaluate peak data usage times and build our networks to stay ahead of that demand,” the website states. “While it is not clear yet how having millions of additional people working from home will impact usage patterns, we are ready to address changes in demand, if needed.”

Verizon also said they would not terminate service to a customer that is experiencing a hardship due to the coronavirus.

On Wednesday Gov. Gina Raimondo announced public schools should plan to offer remote learning to students for at least the next two weeks. She had already moved up April vacation to keep kids out of school.

SHARE WITH US: We’re all in this together. How are you doing with the remote learning so far with your kids or students? Send us your experiences, positive ideas, concerns, photos and video of your efforts during this new endeavor: Use ReportIt@wpri.com, share on the WPRI 12 Facebook page or submit here »

Cox already announced they were offering a month of free internet service to low-income families with school-aged children. School districts can apply for by sending Cox a list of students who do not have internet connections.

Lavery said Cox also announced $35,000 in financial support to the R.I. Department of Education and CCRI to help low-income students acquire the technology they need to remotely connect to classrooms.

Tim White (twhite@wpri.com) is the Target 12 investigative reporter and host of Newsmakers for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow him on Twitter and on Facebook

Steph Machado contributed to this report

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