In the month since families started working and learning at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, home use of entertainment has shot up, said Dave Wolf, CEO of internet provider Gardonville Cooperative Telephone Association.

“Usage is way up,” he said. “What we noticed is an incredible shift toward entertainment.”

In Gardonville’s service area, businesses are going online less, but homes are using 33% more bandwidth than before schools switched to distance learning. A small part of that growth is to accommodate distance learning and telework, Wolf said. However, most of it — 75% — is because homes are using more entertainment sites like Hulu and Netflix.

The other quarter has been used for distance learning, gaming and social media sites.

Gardonville, based in Brandon, provides service in towns that include Garfield, Brandon, Evansville, Millerville, Erdahl, Leaf Valley and Melby.

Use of Disney+ has doubled, Wolf said.

“It just lumbers along and suddenly it doubles. That tells you something of what people are doing.”

Gaming is also seeing a big boost, although part of that is because it requires a lot more bandwidth than distance learning, he said.

Gardonville is one of the local internet providers that signed an FCC pledge to keep Americans connected. As part of that, it has been extending and improving internet access to homes that lacked it before and who need it for school or work. Home connections have been taxed with family members now home all day, every day.

One of those families was in Garfield, where three school-age children were each running Chromebooks using their mom’s smartphone as a hotspot.

There was a lot of buffering and wait times, said their father, Josh Smith.

“The kids really miss going to school,” he said. “They miss their teachers.”

Gardonville has also made seven hotspots available for free in public areas to those who lack adequate internet speeds at home. That includes the Brophy Park parking lot and the Douglas County Fairgrounds, near the Viking Sportsmen’s Building.

Wolf praised the federal government’s response to the needs of internet providers. U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., let the FCC know that Gardonville needed a particular spectrum to provide distance learning, and the FCC obliged, he said.

“That’s a great example of how they’re helping,” he said.

Gardonville has faced other pressures, however. It had to shut down a day care it ran for its employees because the exposure risk was too great. And it conducts its work meetings online now.