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The Impact of COVID-19 on Internet Use Around the World

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Mother and baby at computer

There’s no question that the COVID-19 outbreak has changed our collective behavior over the first half of 2020. A large part of the behavior shift has been focused on the Internet and how we use it in everyday life. As events shut down, workplaces and schools moved virtual, and other avenues for entertainment closed their doors, the world shifted Internet habits. In both temporary and lasting ways, this odd time has changed the way that we use the Internet.

Internet Usage Increased for Specific Purposes

As more people stayed home from mid-March onward, Internet usage went up as users increased their screen time (by 25-30%, according to The Newstack) in four main areas.

  • Remote working: The increase in remote working caused both overall Internet usage to go up during the day and the bandwidth usage to go up as well, with more employees connecting via video conference software such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and others.
  • In-home entertainment: As movie theaters, professional sports, bars, and restaurants closed their doors for the duration of the outbreak, users searched for more in-home entertainment. In conjunction with SimilarWeb, the New York Times reports increases in streaming websites such as Netflix and Hulu along with Internet gaming.
  • Social networking: Those stuck at home still craved interaction with friends and relatives. Traffic on social networking sites also increased so that family and friends could keep in touch.
  • Online education: Education at all levels, from preschools to graduate education shifted from in-person to either closed or online. Parents searched for educational resources and older students conducted research and classes online instead of on campus.

Shift from Apps to Laptops and Desktop Computers

One interesting shift in user behavior was the shift from the app versions of entertainment and social networking to the desktop and laptop sites. According to the New York Times, this actually reversed trends that were seeing more traffic on the mobile app versions of websites such as Facebook and Netflix. With more people at home on laptops and desktop computers instead of out and about on phones, this trend reversed.

Locations of Internet Use

As people stayed home from work in urban centers and focused on social distancing, the locations of Internet access also changed. In areas that are more suburban and rural, Internet use has gone up because people have foregone the commute and are working from home. Whereas Internet service usage has gone up in more residential areas, urban areas have seen a slight decline in Internet use.

News Outlets – Back to Local

Another interesting trend was the trend away from major news stations and toward more local sources of news such as local papers and local TV news stations. There was a slight decline in major TV news stations during this time as Internet users wanted to see more news closer to home.

Changing Content of Interest

There has also been a content shift in the types of sites that users are accessing, with the Newstack reporting declines in searches for sports, weddings and other events but increases in resources for parenting, fitness and entertainment increased.

Temporary or Permanent Changes?

Whereas some of the restrictions that resulted from the outbreak will be only temporary, some of the changes that we’ve seen with Internet use might remain permanent. Many large companies, are instituting more comprehensive work-for-home policies regardless of where we stand with the outbreak are instituting more comprehensive work from home policies even after the danger has passed. This could potentially lead more people to live where they love.

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