At the pinnacle of “It could be worse,” imagine the coronavirus and no electricity or the internet.
With pandemic restrictions causing so many Americans to work, learn and just hang out at home, nervousness about being completely cut off from the rest of the world could be setting in.
Fear not, say Pikes Peak region utilities suppliers.
“The last thing we want people to worry about is utility outages,” said Curtis Mitchell, utilities director for the city of Fountain, which serves 60,000 residents in Fountain, Widefield and Security.
Mitchell ranks utilities’ workers alongside first responders, health care providers, grocery store clerks, truckers, food pantry volunteers and postal deliverers as unsung heroes in the coronavirus battle.
“For us, it’s the faces behind the scenes, staying on top of everything that could contribute to an outage,” he said.
Residential electric consumption for Fountain has increased 25% in recent weeks and decreased 18% for commercial usage, he said.
The shift is due to state requirements for people to work from home and schools and businesses closing or reducing operations, Mitchell said.
Overall electric usage is up 41% over this time last year, he said.
But, “capacity is something we always monitor, and we’re nowhere near capacity of our system.”
For Colorado Springs Utilities, which manages about 221,800 electric meters in the city, more homebodies and less public interaction thus far has only had “a limited impact on overall demand,” said spokeswoman Natalie Eckhart.
Overall energy and water demand for March was down less than 5% over the same period last year, she said via email.
The biggest change for Utilities is falling fuel prices, which the municipal company is now passing on to customers.
As of Wednesday, residential electric bills will be lowered by $2.52 per month, and commercial users will see a $21.60 monthly drop.
“Energy costs are variable and driven by price fluctuations in the coal, natural gas and purchase-power market,” Eckhart said.
Colorado Springs’ largest commercial customers collectively are projecting electric usage declines of 11%, Eckhart said, adding that power consumption typically drops in April as a result of longer daylight hours and higher temperatures that lead to less need for heat.
But the utilities’ company expects water usage to increase with the call to wash hands and sanitize surfaces more frequently and as spring landscaping ramps up.
The mass nationwide shift to working and learning remotely has slowed internet uploading and downloading speeds in many cities, including Colorado Springs, according to recent analysis from BroadbandNow, a website that compares internet service providers.
“Colorado Springs is seeing the same thing many other cities across the country are right now; moderate slowdowns to both upload and download speeds across the board,” Tyler Cooper, editor-in-chief of BroadbandNow, said in an email.
Download speeds decreased 15.4% for the week of March 22-28 over what’s typical for Colorado Springs, and upload speeds — which are important for Skype, Slack and Zoom conferencing applications — decreased 9.4% for that week, the survey shows.
However, Cooper said, the speeds are “still more than enough to keep users in Colorado Springs connected, so there isn’t any immediate reason users should panic based on this data.”
Various factors can lead to slow network speeds, said Leslie Oliver, spokeswoman for Comcast’s Mountain West Region.
The number of devices connected in a home, the location of the router, such as in the basement when computers are on the second floor, and other appliances operating can affect residential speeds, she said.
Peak internet traffic for Comcast, one of the largest internet providers nationally and regionally, has increased 32% nationwide, according to data released Monday.
But shifts in network usage attributed to more adults and children being at home, is “all within our capability,” Oliver said.
“We want people to have confidence our network has the capacity to support the usage we’re experiencing.”
Although she didn’t have statistics specific to Colorado Springs or the region, Oliver said the company is seeing internet use plateauing in cities such as Seattle and San Francisco, which had early outbreaks of COVID-19.
Also changing are the times people are downloading and uploading images, files and applications. Prior to March 1, the peak demand time for downloading and uploading was 9 p.m.
As of Monday, the peak download time for users obtaining web pages, images, files, movies, games and live-streaming was 7:30 p.m.
And the peak upload time for emailing, posting photos on social media, participating in video conferencing and other applications now stretches all day, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Nights and weekends continue to dominate television and video gaming use, though. Gaming downloads are up 50% and television streaming and web viewing are up 38% for Comcast.
Local utilities companies and internet providers are working with customers to ensure utilities are not shut off and that low-income households receiving federal government assistance also have free internet access during the pandemic. Comcast also is pausing data plans so users have unlimited data.
“We understand this is a critical time,” Oliver said. “Our company is about connectivity, and we want to make sure we do what we can to maintain that.”
Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.