The System That Actually Worked

The System That Actually Worked

How the internet kept running even as society closed down around it

The Atlantic, 2020




  • Overview
  • Concrete Examples
  • Engaging


In the coronavirus pandemic, the internet became the overarching infrastructure that kept social and economic life possible. The web’s architects built it with redundancy in mind, which is why it’s so robust, with multiple ways to route every communication. Recent innovations like cloud storage make it a snap to add capacity. Writing for The Atlantic, journalist Charles Fishman analyzes the impact of COVID-19 on internet use for provider AT&T. From video meetings and classrooms to news and online shopping, the internet is, indeed, the web holding the world together.


During the pandemic, the internet became the vital infrastructure holding social and economic life together and providing a “semblance of normalcy.”

People have been able to stay home, study at home and work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic largely because of the internet. Internet provider AT&T saw an immediate uptick of 20% in its network’s usage in mid-March 2020, then another 5% surge from April on, with no decrease as of May.

Adding that capacity quickly might not sound like such a challenge, but the trucking industry, for example, couldn’t do it, and neither could the airline industry. The whole world relies on the internet for widely diverse functions, such as keeping businesses open remotely, staying in touch with friends and family, offering online work and education, and communicating news and vital medical information.

AT&T is the largest telecom corporation in the United States, with revenue of $181 billion and a quarter of a million employees. As the third largest broadband carrier, after Comcast and Charter Communications, it is one of the companies that manages the “internet backbone” across...

About the Author

Charles Fishman is the author of The Wal-Mart Effect and One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission That Flew Us to the Moon, and he co-authored A Curious Mind: The Secret of a Bigger Life with Brian Grazer.

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