With people working from home and kids staying home from school during the recent coronavirus pandemic, streaming and internet usage is increasing dramatically.
Muenster-based Nortex Communications has seen an influx of 30% more data usage for customers since March 12 and almost three times more subscribers over the past two months compared to previous months.
Nortex CEO Joey Anderson said it has been a huge strain on their network as they close in on 8,000 total customers in the surrounding cities that range as far as Saint Jo and Nocona to the west, Valley View and Sanger to the south, Lake Kiowa, Collinsville, Pilot Point to the east and up north as far as the Red River.
“It’s almost like a 50% increase in data usage from the year before,” Anderson said. “TV providers are going to a direct stream along with Disney Plus and Amazon Prime. They’ve switched to ultra high definition quality.”
High definition streaming is 12 megabits per second but the newer mediums such as Netflix are putting out content in ultra-high definition, which is 20 mbps.
Before Texas Gov. Greg Abbott issued a stay-at-home order for the month of April, Anderson said the data usage was 60% streaming and 40% internet browsing, but now that ratio is closer to 75% streaming and 25% browsing.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Netflix added 15.8 million net customer additions in the first financial quarter and is currently at 182.9 million subscribers worldwide.
Nortex is currently working on transitioning from cable modems and digital subscriber lines or DSL to fiber optic internet.
“At the same time, we were trying to expand to the other areas,” Anderson said. “We’ve grown a lot in Gainesville. I hope most businesses are using us and our long-term goal was to be able to serve everybody in Gainesville.”
Anderson said one of the great things about fiber is that its capacity is limitless.
As for recommended download and upload speeds, Anderson said families needed around 50-100 mbps for download and 20-30 mbps for upload.
Many communication services like Zoom and Google Meet feed into the upload side of things.
Because more people are spending more time at home, Anderson said the need for internet is growing in several ways.
“An area like Lake Kiowa, people have left Dallas to go to their lake house and they figured they need to be there a while and they need service,” Anderson said. “Other people have just used their cell phones but their kids need internet for the homework. Or you’ve been sent home to work and you need greater speeds for whatever. It’s been surprising in our traditional areas that we thought we had all of it covered and now all these new people are needing service.”
Financially, Nortex is doing well in the past few months.
“I think mainly it’s customers calling to ask,” Anderson said. “We’re not having to reach out. We’re making them aware that if they’re working from home that they need better packages. It’s definitely good for us. It’s kind of sad that the state of things with businesses having to close and struggling to survive, but for us it’s good for business.”
Anderson said Nortex is doing what it can to work with the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate late fees.
“We joined Keep America Connected through the FCC and since the start of this until the end of June, we’re not charging late fees or disconnecting customers that are being impacted by the pandemic,” Anderson said. “We’re not leaving people without broadband. We had businesses call us and say that their restaurant isn’t open or the hotel is empty, so we have discounted the bills. We tried to work with them. We figure that’s going to continue and we’ll have to long-term help people to pay everything.”
On its end of things, Nortex is having more employees work from home and they have had several conversations of how to keep everyone safe.
“One of the things we did was we separated teams,” Anderson said. “We sent some to Gainesville. We had some work from home. We also made sure all of our installers weren’t going all at the same time so they weren’t all congregated. We also made sure they had alcohol wipes and masks. Then we changed how we talked to customers. We asked them questions about their state of health.”
Nortex handed out bonuses to all employees two weeks into the pandemic and Anderson said that was well received.
“Everybody had been uprooted from their routines so we thought that was a good response and everybody was happy about it,” Anderson said.
The change from cable to fiber has had to be put on hold for the time being, according to Anderson.
“That’s a long-term process,” Anderson said. “In Lake Kiowa, they’ve been on cable modems since the 2000s. There is only so much bandwidth capacity. We’ve rebuilt that whole plan into fiber. Some individual customers felt like what they were using was working just fine, so they didn’t want to take a risk of having an installer in their home. Those people will come back to a later date.”
Along with businesses and hotels being impacted, WinStar being closed has also had a trickle effect on Nortex’s internet demands.
Nortex has provided eight hotspots in each of the communities where it’s active, mostly around the schools.
“In downtown Gainesville, we have an open network,” Anderson said. “Schools were sharing it with students and we advertised it on social media and our website.”
Gainesville has a hotspot in the farmers market, called Nortex hotspot with no password required.