When it comes to basic human needs, there are only a few requirements: air, water, food, and shelter*. These are deemed “essentials” or “utilities” in our day-to-day lives. When looking at essentials, we do see several other utilities that stem from these 4 basic necessities, such as electricity, water/sewer, and natural gas. But, what about Internet? Twenty years ago (or even 7 years ago), it was considered a luxury item that was not necessary for work, school, or survival; now, however, it would be absolutely impossible to receive an education, work a job, or even function throughout life in 2020 and 2021. Let’s briefly look at a couple of examples of the evolution of the Internet over the last few years and how we got to where we are today. (for a full historical timeline, check out internetsociety.org’s publication.)
In January of 2013*, DoorDash launched their service hoping to revolutionize the restaurant and food delivery industry for good. After a couple years of seeing their success, companies such as GrubHub and Uber Eats noticed the profit margin and quickly began their own spinoff of DoorDash. While business was good during this time, it took a global pandemic starting in March of 2020 to show the true value of these companies. According to MarketWatch, the usage of food delivery services nearly doubled while the COVID-19 pandemic tore through the United States, shutting down many dine-in restaurants and limiting them to carry-out or delivery only. The only way that companies such as DoorDash and Uber Eats accept orders and can properly manage so many orders is thanks to the internet.
Another example is Walmart. Their eCommerce sales doubled in 2020* and caused a surge in online ordering and curb-side services and pickups. Many high-risk people were terrified about shopping in person fearing they would catch the virus, but to their relief, curbside pickup or even home delivery was a valuable (health-wise), yet simple (a few clicks from the comfort of their house), convenience to take advantage of.
Finally, look at doctor offices and other medical facilities. So many were able to quickly adopt virtual check-ups with their patients that were at high risk and could not leave the house, as well as people who were COVID positive and in quarantine. With a couple of clicks, you could be connected with a doctor anywhere in the world to check on your health and ask other important questions about your personal wellbeing!
Now think about this: what if this happened 10 years ago, or heck, even 5 years ago. How do you think this would have panned out? I honestly think that we (to put it bluntly) would have been screwed. In just 5 years, I have seen first-hand how much our internet infrastructure has changed as a whole for the betterment of experiences. Many providers have re-run entire town backhauls and neighboring connectivity points, as well as doubling the speeds available in residential areas. If they had been still running on the outdated infrastructure, I truly believe we would have seen a crippling “Internet” as a whole, resulting in more catastrophic failure in eduction, businesses, and work as a whole.
In addition to what was mentioned above, think of how much worse quarantine and lockdown would have been! The only way many people (including myself) made it through the lockdowns were being able to get on group Zoom calls or FaceTime calls with friends and family, catching up, watching Netflix together, or even playing games online. Five to ten years ago, FaceTime still only supported only one person at a time, we thought Skype was so high-tech that you could have a couple people in a group call at the same time, Zoom was still a small company, work from home solutions were clanky and unreliable at scale. Heck, we also just got 4G LTE at that time and thought that was the greatest when being able to browse the web while on the phone with someone!
My point of this whole first article is that the internet has proven to become a major utility in our day-to-day lives, especially in 2020 and 2021. Next week, I will dig deeper into the usage statistics and later interview smaller internet providers on how they’re holding up in this pandemic!