The necessity of the Internet for essential services and business

Covid-19 has had an unparalleled impact on societies and economies worldwide. Nearly instantaneously, the Internet has become a life line that links us to the outside world. We depend on it to work, to go to school, and connect with family and friends. It has become our primary source of information and entertainment during extended lockdown periods across the globe. Consequently, the adoption rates of many technologies, apps and platforms will accelerate in the future as people have become more digitally minded and embraced technology while working from home.  

More people are using the video-conferencing software Zoom in the first two months of 2020 than in all of 2019. Cloudflare, a US company providing network infrastructure to businesses around the world reports that its Internet traffic increased by around a quarter in many major cities between January and late March 2020.  

The role the Internet is playing in connecting people in these days of social distancing is evidenced by how social media users are utilising WhatsApp, Facetime, or Facebook messenger to stay connected. 

In addition to regular emails and supplementary WhatsApp groups, businesses are using Skype, Microsoft Teams,Zoom, etc. to both stay connected and coordinate tasks with colleagues. Some have a conference call once a day to check-in with each other and plan their work for the day. While it may be argued that office calls can also be conducted over audio calls, video conferencing is preferred as a closer replacement of face to face meetings.  

The necessity of the Internet was apparent following President Ramaphosa’s address on 23 March when a Debt Relief Fund was launched to help alleviate the harsh economic impact on all small, micro and medium enterprises (SMMEs) and they had to apply for relief on existing debts and payments online.  

Despite these measures Bernard Swanepoel, Executive Director of Small Business Institute states: “Small business needs to rethink their business model. They also need to rethink their dependency on big business and government”. Consequently, businesses are using the Internet to stay connected with customers and maintain awareness of services that cannot be rendered during the lockdown. Maintaining visibility to customers during this time is crucial. 

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Community groups on Facebook and WhatsApp are ideal channels to remind consumers of products and services. Specifically, social media can be used to create unique and compelling content for customers by, for example, using the right keywords to help gain traction. People are hungry for quality content because they are spending more time behind computer screens and on smartphones. 

Services of small and medium business are augmented through the Internet and several fitness and wellness instructors started leveraging digital platforms to run classes. Video conferencing tools like Zoom, Skype, Skype For Business, Discord and Google Hangouts, are also used for therapy and coaching sessions. 

Google Classroom has also gained more users, as schools around the world have turned to online learning. eLearning has also been integrated into many mainstream courses at tertiary levels. For example, Learning Management Systems (LMSs) such as Moodle, a-flexible and open source is utilised by universities and colleges to foster interaction, inquiry and collaboration. 

The Internet is also used very successfully by doctors and patients to keep in touch during this time of reduced contact. Consultants and sales representatives are equally using networks such as LinkedIn to collaborate and continue rendering services. Additionally, several NGOs and care organisations use social media platforms for appeals to assist with food parcels and the distribution of care packages.  

One may ask how the Internet is coping with the covid-19 crisis that is driving its biggest expansion in years. Although understandable signs of strain of slow Wi-Fi, websites that will not load or video calls that cut out, experts agree that the Internet is doing just fine.  

To accommodate the spike in Internet demand, video-streaming companies such as Netflix, YouTube, Facebook, and the newly launched Disney+, cut the picture quality of streamed video in Europe to avoid adding to the strain. However, Netflix and Equinix with presence in 200 data centres around the world, are upgrading. For example, Equinix is upgrading its traffic capacity from 10 to 100 gigabytes in a matter of weeks, although planned for a year or two prior to the pandemic.  

In South Africa, where millions of people can access the Internet only via mobile phones, the government is relaxing regulations to allow network operators to roll out cheap or even free data plans. It is also opening sections of the radio spectrum previously reserved for TV to Internet traffic.  

The Coronavirus pandemic has forced everyone into self-isolation and the Internet has become the mainstay for the majority of South Africans as a primary mode of communication. 

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