Surveys - WISPs Responding to COVID-19

COVID-19 Survey - Effect of the Pandemic on WISP network traffic
On August 4th
, WISPA surveyed its WISP providers on the effect the pandemic has had on network use, changes in download and upload traffic, and network responses, among other matters.  From this non-scientific survey, we were able to observe a number of notable insights on how WISPs – who serve approximately 6 million Americans in rural and urban communities – deliver broadband to their customers in these trying times. 

As a topline, while HD movie streaming continues to be a significant bandwidth driver both pre- and post-COVID, not surprisingly shut-in practices boosted virtual meetings/webinars and distance learning to the most used applications during the pandemic.  As a consequence of this change, download traffic and upload traffic surged, pushing our members to upgrade both last-mile and backhaul capacity.  This noted, usage remains highly asymmetrical during COVID, with only a small minority of customers citing faster upload speeds as a reason for upgrading their service packages where requested.  Finally, though customer bandwidth needs have seemingly increased during the pandemic, the most popular service package for consumers is FCC-benchmarked broadband, even where symmetric gigabit services are available.  
Please find below more granular details of our survey.
Top 5 uses pre COVID
  • HD movies streaming
  • Email
  • Web browsing
  • Gaming
  • Music streaming
Top 5 uses during COVID
  • Virtual meetings/Webinars
  • Distance learning
  • HD movie streaming
  • Telemedicine
  • Web browsing
WISPs upgrading delivery network since COVID
  • 82% have
WISPs purchasing additional capacity from bandwidth suppliers since COVID
  • 58% have
Top 5 “speed” packages chosen during COVID
  • 25/3
  • 10/1
  • 50/5
  • 100/20
  • 100/100
Average of asymmetric traffic characteristics during COVID
  • 7 – 1 (down to up)
Average change of download traffic at peak from pre to present COVID
  • +43%
Average change of upload traffic at peak from pre to present COVID
  • +70%
Percentage of customers who upgraded citing need for greater upload speed due to COVID
  • 12%

COVID-19 Survey - Effect of the Pandemic on WISP costs incurred for non-payment of bills, late fee waivers, free connectivity

With congressional debate stirring on compensating companies for staying open during the COVID-19 pandemic, WISPA surveyed its members on June 23rd on the costs incurred for non-payment of bills, waiver of late fees and the provision of free Wi-Fi or other broadband connectivity to individuals and communities during the duration of the FCC's Keep Americans Connected pledge (Pledge), which numerous WISPA members took.

Briefly, we found that:
  • Our average member has about 1,500 subscribers, and the costs to them on average for non-paying accounts was about $25,000 over the duration of the Pledge;
  • As to late fees, the average cost avoided (not charged) was approximately $3,200;
  • And as for free Wi-Fi or other broadband connectivity donated to individuals and the community, that averaged over $4,500.

COVID-19 Survey - Effect of the Pandemic on WISP network traffic, capacity, workforce, etc.
WISPA surveyed its WISP members during the week of March 23rd on how they are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.  The answers were based on responses to such topics as network capacity, new business, field safety, and community service, among others.
On the whole, WISPs appear to be weathering the storm relatively well, with the overwhelming majority of them growing business even in light of new use dynamics, workforce bandwidth issues, potential equipment supply chain shortfalls and the practical safety concerns that the pandemic poses to keeping everyday operations running safely for all.  
The following are the results, which also include illustrative quotes from individual respondents, lending further nuance to each topic area.
WISPs are seeing about 36% increase on average in traffic during peak hours.  Many have planned for this, but others are working to add capacity, too.
“I have planned for increased usage in my system design and can accommodate the needed capacity for this emergency.”
“We're looking at adding additional capacity and network overbuilds to handle the increased usage.”  
83% of WISPs are adding new subscribers, with this business being 33% above normal22% are hiring new staff to meet the new growth and / or service issues.
“Many people are in desperate need for Internet now and we are struggling to keep up.”
“Extraordinarily busy, the calls are ringing off the hook for people looking to get service or upgrade their packages.  We are working extra hours to do everything we can to keep up.”
87% of WISPs are doing in-home and / or in-office service calls, with these calls at 18% above normal.
“We are remaining open, to connect as many as possible due to the shelter in place order for non-essential workers.”
87% have the equipment to manage new subscribers, yet some are concerned about eventual equipment shortfalls.
“We are working on infrastructure upgrade to accommodate speeds [but] inventories are low nationwide.”
“If we are not able to get equipment, we'll have to stop all new installs and reserve equipment for service restoration only.”   
48% of WISPs are offering free Wi-Fi or other connectivity to customers or public institutions, and 40% of WISPs are working with other communications providers to serve their local communities.
“We are providing free services to families with school age children and no current internet service to ensure children can access public school resources from home during school facility closures.”
“We set up a free Wi-Fi location at our local public school so kids in rural area with limited or no internet can get assignments.  Drive up Wi-Fi!!”   
“We are providing equipment to our local school district so that families without internet can park outside the school and get online to do school assignments online.”
12% of service calls have been canceled due to the health concerns of the service call.
“We have implemented a pre-appointment call to confirm and make sure everything is ok.”
“We are still doing home installs and service calls but with caution.  We call the appointments prior to going to the house to be sure no one is ill. We also have our installers wear masks and gloves.”