With internet demand surging, Verizon gets emergency capacity


The nation’s largest mobile phone carrier, Verizon, has received government permission for additional spectrum to handle a surge in internet usage during the coronavirus health crisis.

The Federal Communications Commission’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau late Wednesday said it granted Verizon’s request for additional capacity so the phone company could meet subscribers’ increased demand for internet service on their phones. The emergency authority for the additional spectrum lasts 60 days.

The vast U.S. communications network has been under pressure to provide internet service to tens of millions of people who are suddenly working from home, taking school lessons and streaming video — all data-intensive activities. In an extraordinary move to help European officials, Netflix Chief Executive Reed Hastings said his company would reduce data rates for its video streams across Europe so that internet bandwidth could be used for more pressing needs. The shift, Netflix said, should reduce its traffic on European broadband networks by about 25%.


In the U.S., analysts have been watching to see if wireline broadband networks, maintained by such companies as AT&T, Charter Communications, Comcast and Frontier Communications, can handle the crush. The FCC said Thursday the agency has been monitoring the situation and is pleased with how broadband providers have responded to “changes in usage patterns caused by the coronavirus outbreak and how networks are performing so far.”

With the FCC order, Verizon can temporarily use wireless spectrum licensed to two smaller companies, Northstar Wireless and SNR Wireless License Co.

“We’re doing everything in our power to make sure that our networks are there when our customers need them,” Verizon Senior Vice President Adam Koeppe said in a statement. “While our networks continue to perform well during this crisis, this spectrum will allow us to add capacity to ensure great service for our customers, businesses and all on the front lines in the fight against Covid-19.”

Verizon said it has been able to manage the data traffic, but it has seen increases in areas considered coronavirus “hot spots,” including Seattle and Westchester County, N.Y., near New York City. The New York company also has noticed the biggest increase in traffic among people playing video games on Xbox and PlayStation.

This week, the FCC granted similar requests by T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular to use spectrum that had been assigned to other companies.

“Wireless services are a vital part of connectivity, and this has never been truer than during this crisis, when so many people are turning to telework, remote learning and telehealth options,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.

Pai last week rallied the nation’s phone and broadband internet providers to take a “Keep Americans Connected Pledge,” in recognition that millions of people are reeling from a sudden loss of income. Some may be unable to pay their bills.

As part of the pledge, dozens of companies agreed not to terminate internet service for customers during the coronavirus outbreak and to open their Wi-Fi hot spots to users who do not subscribe to their service.