With workers nationwide beginning to make the transition to working from home amid the coronavirus outbreak, the country’s all-important internet infrastructure is about to get a massive stress test. 

With the influx of people using video conferencing software, chatting apps, and performing their normal work functions online, telecoms and service providers are beginning to lift restrictions on data caps and suspend service terminations due to past due payments. 

Network spikes, and maintaining connectivity

Service providers are already seeing spikes in usage during the workday similar to what they would normally see during peak evening hours. For consumers with data caps on their broadband connections, video conferencing and downloading large work files could chew through their monthly allotment in short order.

To offset that, AT&T (T) is temporarily suspending those caps, as a means to allow those who are working at home to stay online.

“I think you’re going to find the other network guys are going to follow suit on this,” TECHnalysis Research president and chief analyst Bob O’Donnell told Yahoo Finance’s On The Move. “You’ve got big networking companies like Cisco (CSCO) heads down, trying to figure out how they can best address and approach this issue.”

More companies are encouraging workers to stay at home. Image: Getty

According to a Cox spokesperson, the company is suspending account terminations for home and small business customers who are behind on their bills. On March 17, the company will also temporarily increase the speed of it base internet package to 50 megabits per second, twice the Federal Communication Commission’s 25 Mbps threshold for broadband internet.

“We are responding to the COVID-19 crisis by increasing access and speeds of our low-income internet service Connect2Compete,” the spokesperson told Yahoo Finance. “New Connect2Compete customers will receive their first month of service free, which is normally available to qualified low-income households for $9.95/month. This goes into effect Monday, March 16.”

Comcast is offering a similar program to new and existing customers. The company has said that it is offering 60 days of complementary service to new customers who sign up for its Internet Essential service, which costs $9.95 per month. It’s usually only available to qualified low-income customers.

Facing service spikes

A number of providers have told Yahoo Finance that they are more than prepared for a massive spike in network usage as large swaths of the workforce begin to work from home.

“Currently, we are seeing no unusual impacts to our network, making the risk to our customers’ service continuity minimal,” explained a CenturyLink (CTL) spokesperson. 

“Our Network Operations Center is constantly monitoring usage across our network. Through a combination of smart technologies and human expertise, our teams can quickly add capability, modify paths, and shape traffic to meet the changing needs of our customers.”

Cameron Blanchard, SVP of communications at Charter (CHTR), explained that the company’s broadband capabilities are designed to sustain maximum capacity during the evening peak usage, and it will be able to do the same as workers begin using the company’s network during the day.

Internet providers have been building out their network capacity for some time already, pushing their speeds up to 1 gigabit per second, meaning they already have a huge amount of capacity. What’s more, O’Donnell said, the nascent 5G networks sprouting up across the country could help offset some issues for those who have compatible devices.

“Even though we don’t have a lot of 5G service, and 5G isn’t any kind of magical thing here, they have started to do the work to build out the infrastructure to support 5G and the higher data rates that it was expecting,” he said. “So I feel pretty good that it should do okay.”

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