With the spread of coronavirus in Wyoming, local internet and TV providers are working to make sure homebound workers and students in Cody remain connected to the outside world.
When the novel coronavirus 2019 prompted a sudden mass move last week from classroom and office to work done from home, TCT says it was in position to respond.
Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the company was on top of needs and therefore better prepared to accelerate services than it would have been a couple of years ago, Richard Wardell, TCT chief technology officer, said by phone Friday.
“So this has not been a huge strain,” he said.
Wardell said TCT has plenty of capacity to handle changes.
“Things are still flowing well and people are able to do what they need to do,” he said.
Schools No. 1
As soon as Cody schools announced closures for at least three weeks starting March 16, TCT began working closely with the school district to obtain a list of students who don’t have internet access, and then fast-tracked them through the system to provide services as quickly as possible.
“So they can continue schooling, it was a high priority,” Wardell said.
TCT serves schools throughout Park County and the northern Big Horn Basin, and continues to work with all schools as they provide names and requests for service.
“We’re trying to be creative there, and provide (wireless) service even from a neighbor’s house,” Wardell said. “They can be turned into a public Wi-Fi of sorts. By piggybacking on a neighbor’s Wi-Fi service, we can add capacity.”
Expanding technology services to homes allows students to do schoolwork without having to go out of the house for online studies.
“In the Lovell area, when the first list came in, we were able to have parents pick up modems and do self installs – to plug in Wi-Fi – because they lived in homes that previously had service,” Wardell said. “For places that didn’t have internet service before, we’ve had to be more creative.”
Technology trends in recent years have prompted the company to adjust its capacity and invest in its infrastructure.
“There’s been a huge spike in usage with streaming video and entertainment kinds of things,” Wardell said. “We’ve been watching those trends in general the last few years.”
As a result, he said TCT has maintained a robust network.
Contributing to its preparation is $3 million from the Federal Communications Commission TCT is receiving to improve broadband and voice services in Big Horn and Park counties. The funding provides a significant boost to local rural high speed internet. Coverage upgrades are to occur in the South Fork and in rural areas east and south of Cody.
Wireless services are in place in those areas. But as successful bidder in the FCC auction, TCT is upgrading and adding towers – although the company hasn’t yet been able to make huge changes in the short time since the award was announced last fall.
Much of TCT’s internet is supplied from hubs such as Denver and Seattle. Because most internet traffic has been traversing TCT’s network in some form anyway, the recent spike in usage doesn’t impact the overall system. It just changes the starting spot, whether office or home.
“If you look at total usage at the edge of the network ... that capacity hasn’t changed,” Wardell said. “As far as total capacity being used, we’re not seeing any huge spikes in the network.”
Focus on needs
Before the COVID-19 crisis had reached Cody, TCT personnel were following the news and what was happening, Wardell said.
When health concerns became full blown, they quickly determined where the needs for internet service would be and dispatched technicians geographically from the various area TCT offices to manage the demand, he said.
There’s been a general trend toward employees working from home anyway, with the use of conference call meetings growing. In response, TCT has worked to expand capacity in that area.
“So when all the (recent) changes started kicking in, we were able to focus on needs for capacity from increased conference calling,” Wardell said.
Taking proactive action, TCT has worked with all medical facilities in the area as well, completing upgrades last Thursday.
“Basically, we bumped up their connectivity and provided them, sometimes, 10 times the capacity,” Wardell said.
There’s also the entertainment factor as people are kept from personal interaction.
TCT belongs to a national cable TV cooperative that has allowed the company to add, for a short time, extra channels to its basic lineup.
“To make it more tolerable while people have to stay at home,” Wardell said. “To make life more enjoyable even though it’s a crazy time.”