Western Broadband Update, 3-23-2020

The global COVID-19 pandemic is having a big impact on everyone’s lives. We encourage all of our subscribers to be aware of the risks, not just to ourselves, but also to the more vulnerable members of our communities here in Central Texas, and to take all necessary precautions to slow the spread of this disease.

Bandwidth Usage

In order to “flatten the curve” and prevent our hospitals and healthcare systems from being overwhelmed, most schools have sent students home, and many businesses are encouraging or even requiring their employees to work from home. This combination has already resulted in higher-than-normal bandwidth demands throughout the day, and as more people shift to this new, temporary way-of-life, we expect to see that increase even further.

Our normal planning method for increasing capacity looks at existing demand and extrapolates based on a simple, linear growth model. This new surge in demand was unexpected, and although we are constantly upgrading and improving our network, and we did already have plans to add additional capacity to support higher speed plans and improve redundancy, the new equipment for this is here at our office, still awaiting FCC license approvals, at which point we will need to schedule tower climbs to install it.

We fully intend to try to expedite this process as much as possible, but all this additional bandwidth demand is stressing our network in new ways. As a result, there may be periods of the day during which you may not be receiving all the network speed you normally expect. Just like the grocery stores had their shelves cleared of hand sanitizer and bleach and have to scramble to restock, we are working hard to improve our infrastructure, but it can’t be done all at once.

We ask for some patience, and request that you please refrain from running speedtests, if possible – speedtests do not have some secret process to objectively determine the speed of a connection; they work by throwing as much data as they can at our system, and detecting the point at which the connection chokes. That means that when you think your connection is running slow, and you run a speedtest, you are putting even more traffic, carried over the whole path from the fiber to your access point and then your home, possibly during those same periods in which everyone else on the same access point is competing to use bandwidth. If you are concerned that you’re not getting the speed you should be, please call us on the telephone, and we will be happy to run the necessary diagnostics to figure out what is happening. That process may involve a speedtest, but under monitored conditions.

If you require additional bandwidth to meet your work-from-home needs, or to allow your children to use learning-from-home software, please call us. We can evaluate the quality of your connection, and determine if we can make the requested increase. In some cases, a site visit may be required to improve the signal level in order to allow the higher-performance plans to work properly. In certain instances, where the signal levels are already at the best we can manage, yet are still marginal, we may not be able to increase the speed as much as desired.

Special WiFi Hotspot

We know that the wireless connections we offer are limited in speed by their nature. We are working on improving speeds to your homes, as I mentioned above, but we already have a high-speed fiber optic line which connects to our office in Austin. During this crisis, we understand that you may need to move files so large that they won’t work well over your home’s connection, so we are setting up a WiFi Hotspot accessible from the parking lot at our office. You can use a laptop and see upload and download speeds much faster than you’d get at home for those few files that are too big to send or receive from home. Please call or email us for details.