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Internet usage rocketed on the East Coast during Sandy: report

While the waters were rising and the wind was blasting buildings along the East Coast, Internet usage rocket above the usual average, that is, before the blackouts hit.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

In the run-up to Hurricane Sandy, Internet usage on the East Coast was 114 percent above the typical traffic for a Monday in October, according to a Canadian networking equipment company.

Sandvine, a deep-packet inspection provider to Internet service providers, detailed in a blog post how the traffic in one unnamed city on the Eastern Seaboard reacted in regards to Internet usage just before Sandy hit -- around the time the storm hit New York City on Monday evening.

From around 8.00 a.m. ET on Monday, Internet traffic rocketed above the typical usage -- shown in blue -- and remained elevated throughout the day. Traffic peaked just before 4 p.m. ET and only returned to normal traffic levels as subscribers in the storm-path city began to turn in for the night. 


Sandvine said that while not one particular application or Web service was the root cause for the surge in traffic throughout the Monday, the firm noted that the usage pattern was "similar to what is observed on weekday evenings."

High-bandwidth applications may be one of the reasons behind the exponential rise in traffic throughout the Monday morning, rather than an increase in numbers accessing the Web during this period. Many workers in affected states were told to remain at home and tele-work if at all possible. Many businesses shut down for the duration of the storm.

What else is there to do when you're battening down the hatches for a pyjama day? Put on the popcorn and watch a movie, of course. 

Netflix viewing, for example, was up by 20 percent during the storm as people stayed in at home to wait out the storm, according to a Netflix spokesperson speaking to GigaOm. Most viewers were in the ten states hit by the hurricane, with most watching some kind of childrens' titles for the little ones who were off school for the day.

Social media wise, more than 1.1 million people mentioned "hurricane" on Twitter since 4.00 p.m. ET on Monday, for instance. ZDNet's Rachel King has the numbers.

As one might expect, with phone lines down and cell service cut off in many areas, many used Internet voice services, such as Skype, to communicate with others. Sandvine saw Skype traffic rocket by 122 percent, noting a large spike around 5 p.m. ET before communications began to struggle in major metropolitan areas.

Skype traffic remain varied most of the day -- the average Monday is shown in blue -- while a notable increase in traffic is apparent around the 10:30 a.m. ET mark, before it returned to 'normal' levels around 8 p.m. ET. 


More than 8.2 million households on the East Coast were affected by power outages in total, and many will not see the lights go on after dark until during or after the coming weekend. 

While most of the Web was largely unaffected by Sandy, some notable websites crumbled due to -- of all things -- flooding of data centers in southern-most tip of Manhattan. ZDNet's Andrew Nusca has more.

Image credit: Sandvine. 

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