When San Francisco’s mayor on Monday afternoon ordered city residents to begin staying indoors to curb the spread of the coronavirus, Rudy Rucker, the owner of Monkeybrains, a small Bay Area internet service provider, was in his van, heading to upgrade the equipment on his network. “We were like, ‘Okay…we’re still working,” said Rucker. “We can’t go home.”
As countless schools, offices and retail establishments lock their doors, people like Rucker who are keeping the internet running have suddenly assumed a vital social role. ISPs like Monkeybrains are scrambling to add more networking equipment to handle spikes in internet usage, while messaging services like WhatsApp have been adding more servers to ensure their apps perform well. Meanwhile, employers are increasing the capacity of virtual private networks, used to encrypt data from workers’ homes to company servers.