With more people working from home because of COVID-19, the region’s most prominent internet service company is asking customers to be “responsible and diligent” with their internet usage.

Gearheart Communications issued a notice to customers on Friday, March 20, asking them to reduce unnecessary Internet usage.

“As our company responds to COVID-19, the health of our subscribers, as well as, the health of our Internet Network, remains our #1 priority. Our Internet Network is critical not only for all our customers, but especially first responders,” the statement said.

The company reported that it is seeing “an alarming trend of internet usage of up to 60 percent” because more adults and students are working from home.   

“We want to keep those trends down in order to continue service without interruption. In doing so, we suggest the following tips to limit or modify your usage during this time,” the press release said.

The company asks customers to limit video streams from places like YouTube, Amazon Prime and Netflix to standard definition. It also asked customers to reduce the output of their streaming devices, limit the number of connected devices in homes, turn off streams when going to bed or not watching them, avoid large downloads and multiple downloads when gaming, turn off background downloads on cell phones and use cable television when possible instead of the internet.

In an interview Monday morning, Heather Gearheart and Heath Wiley of Gearheart Communications talked about the reasons for these requests.

“Our network is strong. We’re just being proactive because we’re seeing a lot of stuff happen on other networks over in Europe right now, where it’s just slogging the network. That’s all we’re doing, is just being proactive,” Wiley said. “Heavy, heavy usage could cause an issue. We’re not seeing any issues right now, but we’re just giving tips on how customers can maintain a healthy network by maybe limiting, like with television, if you’re not watching Netflix, just stop the stream.”

Gearheart answered a question about whether continued unnecessary usage could impact service to customers.

“We don’t ever want to say no because you never know what could happen,” she said. “Did we know two weeks ago that we’d be in the spot that we are today where we’re trying to keep everything going, we’re trying to keep customers happy, but we’re also trying to keep everybody healthy by socially distancing and having people working from home?”

She emphasized, “Right now, we are seeing that our network is working fine and we felt that it was necessary to send out a notice just for people to be responsible at this time, and, you know, just going along with Team Kentucky, let’s be responsible. Everybody is having to use the internet. Things that we took for granted, two weeks ago, we can’t really take for granted right now. I mean, my daughter shouldn’t be playing on the Wii using the internet, have their phones playing a Netflix video at the same time and then trying to do their homework online. So, if everybody would just be responsible and diligent at this time, prayfully, we can go back to being frivolous. Right now, we’re just wanting to keep everything healthy.”

Wiley reported that the company purchased another 10-gig network to help maintain the health of its current network.

“We’re just making sure that we have enough bandwidth for the customers … That frees up a little more bandwidth. That brings down that percentage of usage so that way we just add another server at our central office to make sure we can handle all the bandwidth,” Wiley said.

When asked if the company would have to slow down internet bandwidth to customers if unnecessary usage continues to climb, Gearheart said, “I think that’s one of those things where you never want to say never, but like Heath just said, we’ve purchased 10 more gig to where we can hopefully withstand this. We are seeing the 60 percent increase. We don’t want to say never, but we’re in high hopes that we’re working very diligently to where that will not happen to our customers.”

Gearheart said officials at the company are praying for the community and small businesses impacted by this virus.

“We’re just praying for everybody and praying for all the companies that are struggling this time, and we’ll get through it. We’ll get there,” she said. “We are here and we’re trying to do the best that we can in this short amount of time that we have had. This has been placed upon everybody and we’re praying for everybody.”

Wiley called it an unprecedented time.

“This is unprecedented,” he said. “We’re going through a time where we haven’t seen it in our lives, anything happen like this. It’s affecting small businesses. It’s affecting families, and we see that and we’re experiencing it as well. We’re just trying our best to make sure that we keep things running, keep things moving for the kids and for the families in their homes.”

To help slow the spread of the virus, Gearheart Communications and Intermountain Cable shut down its lobby to in-person traffic last week, and is helping customers through its drive-through areas, offering bill payment there as well as online. The company also built a window at its exchange center so customers can still come and exchange or turn in their equipment.

The company also implemented social distancing policies for its employees, allowing some technicians to work for home. Workers are also still providing home installs and other services, but they are calling customers ahead and taking precautions to ensure their safety. Gearheart also offers a 24-hour help line, (606) 478-HELP, for customers who need help with their service.

For more information, visit the company’s website or Facebook page.

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