COVID-19 Pandemic: Impacts on the Nation’s Communications Resiliency

Published: May 21, 2020

Federal Market AnalysisCoronavirus (COVID-19) PandemicCritical Infrastructure ProtectionPolicy and LegislationTelecommunications

A White House telecommunications industry advisory panel is looking at the implications of the pandemic on our communications infrastructure.

Key Takeaways

  • The challenges to national telecommunications carriers and federal agencies presented by the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in examples of rapid response and technological advancements, but also areas for review to ensure the long-term resiliency of our information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem.
  • The White House National Security Telecommunications Advisory Council (NSTAC) is studying the effectiveness and impacts of the communications industry’s pandemic response efforts as part of its update on the U.S. Communications Resiliency posture. The update is due out in 60 days.
  • The resiliency posture review will have implications for the federal agencies that depend on carrier services and related technologies. The pandemic response has fueled investments in telework, cybersecurity, SDN, targeted network modernization and other upgrades. Ongoing federal advancements in cloud computing, 5G, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will also likely benefit from future resiliency efforts.

Post COVID-19 Pandemic Review of U.S Communications Resiliency

The disruption from the COVID-19 on the everyday operations of companies and federal agencies has driven a massive spike in teleworking and the White House wants to know how the public telecommunications companies have fared during their responses to increased demands. The answers have national security implications for the resiliency of U.S. communications infrastructure during national emergencies.

At a May 13 meeting of the National Security Telecommunications Advisory Council (NSTAC), Joshua Steinman, Deputy Assistant to the President and Senior Director for Cybersecurity at the National Security Council (NSC), proposed the committee study the impacts and implications of the pandemic as an impetus to updating their 2011 NSTAC Report to the President on Communications Resiliency.

In an account of the meeting reported by Federal Computer Week, Steinman said the telecommunications critical infrastructure response to the pandemic has been unlike any previous natural disaster, which tends to stress local and regional networks. The pandemic has put pressure on networks nationally. Telecommunications carrier representatives at the meeting highlighted their use of software-defined networking (SDN) to quickly redistribute network loads to reduce the overloading of peering points and routing facilities, but also noted the challenges the pandemic response has had for their network planning.

Coming out of the meeting the group will work on a formal update to the national communications resiliency posture report, which Steinman said he would like to have completed within 60 days “to help analyze best practices for network resiliency amid the pandemic response.”

Communications Resiliency – Topics Under Review

According to the supporting documentation from the NSTAC meeting, the proposed areas for further inquiry on the pandemic’s implications for communications resiliency include, but are not limited to:

  • Telecommunications issues that have emerged during of the COVID-19 pandemic response
  • Emerging technology opportunities that have been realized
  • Impacts of the pandemic on the U.S. information and communications technology (ICT) supply chain
  • Identifiable strengths and weaknesses of the public and private sector responses to the pandemic
  • Opportunities for public-private sector collaboration that have emerged in dealing with the pandemic and lessons learned for enhanced coordination in the future


The impacts of social distancing has driven a rapid rise in remote operations and the resulting spike in distributed communications due to telework – for private companies as well as federal agencies and the contractors who support them. And we have seen numerous accounts of how federal agencies have expedited investments and modernization efforts to adapt to the demands that the pandemic has placed on them to maintain continuity of operation.

The efforts that the national communications carriers have made to adjust to and accommodate shifting and bourgeoning network traffic demands sheds light on areas of strength and weakness in our communications infrastructure, including cybersecurity and the resilience of the ICT supply chain. These insights have implications for immediate investments as well as longer-term strategic planning for sustained resilience.

The larger NSTAC review of the national security and resilience posture of our national critical communications infrastructure will most surely have cross-domain implications for the federal agencies that depend on the technologies and services provided by their industry sector partners. The current pandemic has fueled investments in telework, cybersecurity, SDN, targeted network modernization and other upgrades. Ongoing federal advancements in cloud computing, 5G, artificial intelligence and other emerging technologies will also likely get a lift from future resiliency efforts.