From the Frontline: Tech Response to COVID-19

Posted on 25th March 2020

connect the unconnected

Our firm is unusual: we support the technology sector but sit in the wider service economy. If we don’t want to add noise to the Covid-19 crisis, we see the importance of showing in real time how tech firms can rise to the challenge. We start with a prediction: that when this crisis lifts, as inevitably it will, governments’ relationship to technology companies will not be the same. As tech leaders from Shanghai to San Francisco have rallied without hesitation to provide immediate solutions to manage infection curves and stop the fragile world economy from sclerosis or collapse, the relationship between governments and these companies has already changed. In “peacetime” there was an adversariality between policymakers and these young, impetuous firms; in crisis there is just unaffected partnership. As Covid-19 stalks the healthy and the weak, bodies human and bodies corporate, those who presented themselves without concern for the cost will have more than others to say about the future and the shape it takes.

Access Partnership remains intensely proud of the entities we work with, now more than ever, and we want to take this quiet time to show why. In the short term this information may help spread the word about solutions. Over time it will be a chronicle to drive positive and long-term change.

What are tech companies doing to relieve the crisis?

In the following weeks, we will showcase the actions of organisations that are putting community first when dealing with the pandemic.

Week of 30 March 

During the current Covid-19 pandemic, Facebook Live is having a resurgence since the number of people watching live videos monthly on Facebook’s main app increased from 50% since February. Fidji Simo, Head of Facebook app, is talking with movie studio to held free live-viewing parties.

In order to broaden the reach of broadcasts, Instagram is developing its ability to show live video on the web and extending the length of its live videos beyond its current limit of one hour. Although the traffic on the app is skyrocketing, the company’s revenue is likely to suffer from the decline of spending on advertising by many businesses.

Although its only source of revenue comes from a business chat product, WhatsApp begun giving free access to that technology to government and organization to help them communicate during the crisis. Moreover, Will Cathcart, Head of WhatsApp, increased the app’s server capacity to 80% to ease strain on internet as video calling in lockdown areas have doubled. The company is also working to expand the number of people it supports in a group video call from four to eight.

Week of 23 March

With the Covid-19 pandemic leading to increased calls for people to stay home, the demand for entertainment is likely to rise in the weeks and months to come. For this reason, Akamai will deliberately delay downloads during peak hours to ensure the demand for gaming downloads doesn’t overwhelm the system’s capacity to the point where other information is affected.

Kenya’s president Kenyatta fast-tracked regulatory approval of internet balloons developed by Alphabet in order to boost communications capabilities to help fight the spread of the coronavirus. The project, a joint venture between Alphabet’s Loon and the country’s third-biggest telecoms operator, Telkom Kenya, planned to use giant balloons to beam 4G data services to remote parts of the country but had been held up for almost two years pending approvals from the aviation authority and the Ministry of Transport.

Amazon AWS division is working with NHS and other tech firms such as Microsoft to predict where medical equipment will be needed by providing the cloud computing resources required.

To enable a swift transition remote working, Cisco CX offers self-service onboarding resources for free and QuickStart Services to assist and accelerate your enterprise deployment. Moreover, Cisco Webex offers enable virtual education and work from home setup using free licenses. The company is also providing existing and new customers with an expansion of its security products for free.

Liberty Global is removing data caps and increasing speed for some customers to help during the Covid-19 pandemic. Also, Virgin Media (part of Liberty Global) has given to over 2.7 million Pay Monthly customers a 10GB data boost and unlimited calls at no extra cost. In the Netherlands, VodafoneZiggo (a joint venture between Liberty Global and Vodafone) has partnered with Samsung and The National Foundation for the Elderfly to launch Welcome Online, a free telephone help desk, which teaches IT skills to older people so they can stay in touch with their loved ones.

Microsoft, as part of the AI for Health program, will provide grants to ensure additional access for researchers to their Azure cloud and high-performance computing capabilities. The Microsoft team of AI for Health data science experts is also open to collaborations with COVID-19 researchers as they tackle this critical challenge.

Space X is manufacturing its own hand sanitizer and face shield to donate the materials to hospitals and places in need to help fight the coronavirus pandemic. The company also plans to host a voluntary blood drive at its headquarters in California, and is looking into setting up drives at other SpaceX locations.

The Walt Disney Company was approached by the European Union to reduce network traffic and maximise efficiency in order to help networks operators handle demand as the Covid-19 situation evolved. It reduced its bandwidth by 25% across the EU and delayed the launch of its Disney+ streaming service in France for two weeks, at the request of the French government.

Uber Eats is donating 300,000 meals to first responders and healthcare workers. The company is also waiving delivery fees for over 100,000 independent restaurants to encourage people to support local businesses.

Vodafone and Orange, amongst other mobile operators, have joined forces to share mobile location data with The European Commission to track the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. The data will be used anonymously by The Commission to protect user privacy and aggregate the mobile phone location to coordinate measures tracking the spread of the Covid-19. Moreover, Orange is waiving transfer fees on money transactions in some African counties. Vodafone on its side released a five point plan which aims to help the communities it support across Europe by maintaining the quality of service networks, providing network capacity and services from critical government functions, improving the dissemination of information to the public, improving governments’ insight into people’s movements in affected areas, facilitating working from home and helping the small and micro businesses within their supply chain. Finally, Vodafone’s Foundation made a donation to enable its DreamLaB app to support antiviral research.

Week of 17 March

To support its customers during the course of the pandemic, BT is working with the public sector to support them through technology by providing video to allow intensive care patients and their families to communicate remotely. Moreover, BT is providing free access to 500 street Hubs to the British government to promote Covid-19 health advice on digital screens.

Google is working with other social media company to provide easier access to NHS guidance and websites when someone searches for coronavirus. Also, Google also announced the deployment of a 24-hour coronavirus incident-response team to remove misinformation from search results. Its subsidiary company Youtube will also promote accurate information from health agencies. Moreover, the Kaggle Data Science Community acquired by Google cloud collaborated with other tech firms and researchers to release the Covid-19 Open Research Dataset. Google is also partnering with the U.S. government in developing a website dedicated to Covid-19 education and have also made their video conferencing service, Hangouts Meet, available for all G-suite customers until July 1, 2020.

As fims sets and productions were shut down around the world, Netflix created a $100 million fund to support its casts and crew. Also, following a request from the European Union to a number of digital entertainment companies, Netflix was able to reduce traffic by 25% by removing the highest bandwidth streams for each piece of content.

Nokia shared a briefing from its Deepfield Data on the early effects of lockdown on service provider networks, and has subsequently provided a number of insights into network traffic data. Also, its Threat Intelligence Lab is monitoring malware related to Covid-19 assessing new threat as they appear.

Sky is giving mobile customers a data boost of 10GB and removed data charges for customers accessing the NHS website or calling the NHS helpline. Moreover, the company also offers free access to its Sky Go Extra Service and removed charges for calls to landlines from its Sky Talk service.

Twilio is donating a total of $1,5 million to funding organisations driving the medical response to Covid-19 and serving low-income, at-risk populations who will be severely impacted by the virus. Also, through its volunteer program WePledge, Twilio is matching employee donations 2:1 for charitable organization focused on Covid-19 response.

Verizon is supporting healthcare professionals by giving them and first responders priority and preemption abilities for both voice and data. The company is also delivering connected technologies to assist workers with secure communication of healthcare records and coronavirus testing. Verizon is waiving charges for two months for its Lifeline customers (a US government assistance programme for low income households).

Vulcan has committed $100,000 to support the Chinatown-International District, where the company has been headquartered since 2000. The investment will establish a Covid-19 Response Fund to support locally owned restaurants in the neighborhood, which were among the first businesses impacted by the outbreak. In addition, the Paul G. Allen Family Foundations made a $500,000 commitment to the Seattle Foundation’s Covid-19 Response Fund and a $100,000 donation to the Covid-19 Arts Emergency Relief Fund.

Week of 10 March

Amazon is focused on supporting their delivery service partners, drivers and employees during the Covid-19 crisis. The company donated $25 million to the Amazon Relief Fund which aims to support delivery service partners and drivers. Amazon also donated $5 million to provide cash grants to local small businesses. Through a partnership with the Bill-Gates-funded Seattle Coronavirus Assessment Network, Amazon will assist its hometown city of Seattle with at-home COVID-19 testing.

Hardware providers such as Dell products are a vital lifeline as governments and companies adapt to the crisis, and they are working with partners to implement solutions to sudden disruptions of workflows. Dell Technologies is donating millions of dollars to fight the Covid-19 on several fronts. In addition to the initial $280,000 dollars donation to supply medical equipment, Dell is extending its support to China by delivering an in-kind IT infrastructure donation valued at 6 million yuan. Also, the firm set aside another $3 millions in funds and IT infrastructures to help meet the greatest needs of its community and front-line organization working to contain Covid-19.

Facebook wants to help small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) survive the coronavirus pandemic and is offering $100 million in grants to 30,000 companies in more than 30 countries. Additionally, Facebook has launched a Small Business Resource Hub which aims to provide support for all businesses affected by the coronavirus outbreak. Finally, the tech giant is committing to match $20 million in donations through the UNF, the Solidarity Response Fund and the CDC Foundation.

Mobility platform Grab launched GrabBayanihana, a community-driven initiative providing round-the-clock, free-of-charge transportation service for healthcare workers to safely address the economic and medical pain points brought about by the recent Covid-19 outbreak in the Philippines.

Another tech giant, Microsoft, has made its Teams collaborative platform free for 6 months to enable organisations to telework and provided a free Minecraft distance learning package. Partnering with academic and philanthropic organisations, it has created a COVID-19 Open Research Dataset and developed an advisory guide on the resources and services available through Microsoft Academic. For the public, it has created a free tracker via Bing to make information about the spread of the virus available.

In the analytics world, Nielsen’s data is being used to understand consumer behaviours in this crisis, so actors can respond appropriately. Their data is shedding light on how grocery supply chains remain robust despite panic buying temporarily depleting store shelves, and is projecting media consumption habits during quarantines and lockdowns. Their insights into early signs of consumer behaviour are helping companies to adapt quickly to changes in demand for goods from groceries to health supplies.

On the software side, Salesforce is making some of its technology freely available to those managing the crisis, including its Health Cloud for emergency response teams, call centres and care management teams of health systems affected by coronavirus, as well as a free data resource hub to help organisations see and understand coronavirus data in near real-time. To help its customers shift to telework, the company has made a package of its Quip productivity software free to any customer or non-profit organisation and has released a publicly-available online learning course with tips on how to work from home and maintain personal well-being.

The SAS Institute has created an interactive and up-to-date report that depicts the status, location, spread and trend analysis of the Covid-19. The SAS capabilities is helping organizations to understand how the evolving situation impacts their business and procedures, make simulations for different scenarios and take actions to correct or mitigate negative impact.

SoftBank‘s first Vision Fund seeks $5 billion in funding from investors, which will be matched with $5 billion from SoftBank, to help portfolio companies affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Telefonica is giving Fusion and Movistar mobile customers an additional 30GB of data for free during three months as well as providing free access to its Movistar Junior app. Moreover, The Telefónica Foundation is increasing its educational content through two platforms, Scolartic and Conecta Empleo Platform, accessible for free. Finally, Telefonica (which operates under the O2 brand) is investing £2 million a day in the UK to ensure network resilience, and has increased network capacity to cope with demand. In Germany, customers now get free calls to all German mobile numbers and data caps have been removed. In Spain, customers have been given the ability to use WiFi calling and VoLTE at no extra charge.

Viasat works with its residential and small business customers to keep them connected in a commitment to meet the FCC’s “Keep Americans Connected” pledge. The company commits for the next 60 days to not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills; waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur and open its Wi-Fi hotspots, in conjunction with partners, to any American who needs them.

In February

Drones manufacturer, DJI, has pledged almost $1,5 million in aid to help contain the outbreak of the virus. As part of this, DJI adapted its Agras series of agricultural spraying drones to spray disinfectant in potentially affected areas. The company also helped 1,000 counties in China. Moreover, DJI equipped its drones with loudspeakers and thermal sensor to disperse public gatherings in crowded places and analyze people’s temperature.

Seagate Technology has donated multiple batches of medical supplies valued at $270,000 through various channels to several hospitals in China’s Hubei Province to help in the fight against Covid-19.

The global tech sector – big tech, medium and small tech – are contributing to finding innovative solutions to the current crisis, but governments expect more and communities need more. Access Partnership is collaborating with governments and the tech industry to enable policy solutions that support those who need it most.

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