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Report: COVID-19 Drove 51% Increase in Broadband Traffic in 2020

Jeff Kotuby

According to data provided by OpenVault, a “source of broadband technology solutions and data-driven insights into worldwide broadband consumption patterns,” traffic on broadband networks rose by more than half and average broadband usage approached one-half a terabyte at the end of 2020.

In their 2020 Q4 report, OpenVault announced that per-subscriber average data usage for Q4 2020 was 483 GB per month, a 40% increase over the 344 GB consumed in 4Q 2019 and a 26% increase over the Q3 2020 average of 384 GB.

OpenVault data shows that once average monthly usage jumped almost 47% in April of 2020, trend lines of rising and falling usage almost uniformly followed pre-pandemic norms, albeit at this new, higher level. The report also shows the continued growth of upstream usage; in Q4 2020, upstream consumption was 31 GB per month, an increase of 63% over Q4 2019.

These numbers are consistent with highs seen in the streaming industry throughout 2020, no doubt caused by lockdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Shows like The Office and Criminal Minds were watched for tens of billions of hours, and even newer platforms like Tubi saw massive growths in viewership over the past year.

OpenVault’s 2020 Q4 report also spotlights the continued effects of power users on broadband networks. Among the most recent data:

  • 14.1% of subscribers now consume more than 1 TB of data per month. That represents a 94% rise – 61% in 4Q20 alone – from the 4Q19 average of 7.25%.
  • Extreme power users, those consuming more than 2 TB per month, increased by 184% year over year, from 0.76% in 2019 to 2.2% at the end of last year. Similar to the 1 TB data, 120% of that increase occurred between Q320 and Q420.
  • Providers offering unlimited, flat-rate billing packages saw nearly 30% more power users than those with usage-based billing plans.
  • More than half (53.6%) of all subscribers now consume more than the former power user threshold of 250 GB per month.

The increase in usage during COVID has been part of the major reason there has been so much push back against Comcast’s new nationwide data cap. At the beginning of this year, Comcast’s Xfinity Internet rolled out a nationwide 1.2 TB data cap for the first time. Previously, data caps were only in place in certain regions, generally areas where you had few internet options.

After push back from legislators, Comcast has now delayed their data cap in their Northeast region until June.

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