AT&T's CEO has compared the current Covid-19 outbreak to World War II and says ISP providers like his have to prepare accordingly.

The US giant has seen a huge surge of Internet usage due to the jump in people working from home.

CEO Randall Stephenson told CNN: “When US businesses send everyone home it changes traffic patterns. Mobile volumes are up 40 percent, WiFi volumes are up 100 percent, this is an indication that the infrastructure is allowing the communication to continue and the infrastructure is doing quite well.

“We’re seeing some signs of stress. We’re having to go out and do some augmentation of the network… but right now the network is performing quite well. The US has led the world in investment in comms infrastructure. Billions of dollars of investment are paying off in a national crisis like this."

According to Stephenson, AT&T currently has around 90,000 employees working from home but thousands of other staff and technicians are still operating in offices across the US.

– Sebastian Moss

Prepare like it's wartime

The CEO added: “I think it’s going to cause every company to evaluate how we do business. I think when we come out of this, this is exactly what we’re going to see.”

This pledge came a after AT&T suspended its broadband data caps for home Internet customers. US politicians have also been asking broadband companies to suspend caps on Internet costs.

18 senators signed a letter to the CEOs of eight ISPs that asked the companies to"temporarily suspend broadband caps and associated fees or throttling for all communities affected by Covid-19 and work with public school districts, colleges, and universities to provide free, or at-cost, broadband options for students whose schools close due to Covid-19 who don’t have access at home."

On the day of the letter, AT&T announced it would suspend data caps and waive domestic data overage fees for customers nationwide. The next day, AT&T signed the Federal Communications Commission’s pledge to not overcharge customers for broadband connections.

"This is like World War II. Everyone needs to step up and do their part in how we help the general population," Stephenson told CNN.

Who gets priority?

Other companies have also taken steps to deal with the increased traffic.

According to Microsoft, its Azure cloud service will prioritize emergency services and government workloads if there are capacity constraints. The company is working with local governments to ensure its data centers will still be manned by on-site staff during any lockdown.

The company said over the weekend in a blog post: “As demand continues to grow, if we are faced with any capacity constraints in any region during this time, we have established clear criteria for the priority of new cloud capacity.

"Top priority will be going to first responders, health and emergency management services, critical government infrastructure organizational use, and ensuring remote workers stay up and running with the core functionality of Teams. We will also consider adjusting free offers, as necessary, to ensure support of existing customers."