Demand on local internet companies up, as Islanders stay home to combat COVID-19

As Islanders hunker down in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Island internet companies are dealing with increased demand on their networks. 

'Probably 15 to 25 per cent increase in traffic'

Red Sands Internet says it bought more bandwidth to keep up with the increased traffic on its network. (Nathan Denette/Canadian Press)

As Islanders hunker down in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic, Island internet companies are dealing with increased demand on their networks.

"I have experienced probably 15 to 25 per cent increase in traffic during the day and evening," said Chris MacFarlane, owner of Red Sands Internet. 

MacFarlane, anticipating the increase, purchased additional bandwidth early on from his supplier to maintain the quality of connection for his users. 

But as people attempt to stream content, work from home and communicate with others all at the same time, it can create a strain on the system. 

"They may periodically experience some slowness in the evenings when it does get busy but that is ... one of the things that I try to monitor," he said. 

The chart shows the yearly demand so far on Red Sands Internet, on the far right is March 2020, when more Islanders began to stay home. (Submitted by Chris MacFarlane)

MacFarlane said he might have to buy additional bandwidth to deal with the demand.

'Doubled everybody's network speed'

Wicked Eh?, another Island-based Internet company, said it has seen roughly a 10 per cent increase in its daily usage. 

Normally, the Wicked Eh? network sees peak hours when people get off work or school, said Rob Nelson, chief technology officer with the company. But as more people are staying home, Nelson said traffic on their network has increased through all hours of the day. 

"What we are seeing is that the bandwidth is being utilized 16 hours a day instead of only four or five," he said.

Wicked Eh? has seen its traffic spread out across the day. The top chart shows traffic before Islanders started working from home, with usage peaking around 8:00 p.m. (20:00). The lower chart is more recent and shows the network experiencing more traffic in the morning and afternoon. (Submitted by Rob Nelson )

Nelson said in anticipation of this spike, the company took some precautions.

"We went ahead across the entire network and doubled everybody's upload speed," he said. 

"That's going to help with uploading schoolwork or work documents or getting a good quality Facetime video with your family."

Nelson said the company did not charge its customers for the extra speed.

Rob Nelson with Wicked Eh? says his company's open networks around Charlottetown have seen a nearly 50 per cent increase in traffic. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

Wicked Eh? also offers free wifi hotspots in the Charlottetown area. That's where the company said it's seen the most growth in demand on the network.

"In this time of year we only see maybe three or four hundred at a time during the week but we're already seeing an increase in the total number of users, five to ten thousand people on a daily basis connected to the network even if it's only for 15 or 20 minutes," he said. 

Part of larger trend

What both Wicked Eh? and Red Sands Internet are experiencing is part of a larger trend across Canada, as more Canadians are staying home to combat the spread of COVID-19. 

In an email to CBC News, Bell Aliant said it's seeing increased usage across networks — with home internet usage up to 60 per cent higher during the day, and 20 per cent higher than normal during the evening.

Eastlink has also been experiencing a similar increase. In an email, the company said it's experiencing a 25 per cent increase in home internet usage. 

Eastlink added it has made improvements to its network over the past number of years that have helped it deal with this increase in traffic but said it is "monitoring the network closely and adding capacity where required."

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