EU Urges Netflix, YouTube to Consider Limiting Stream Quality to Ease Strain on Networks Amid Surge in Remote Working

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The European Union has called on Netflix, YouTube and other streaming services to consider temporarily reducing streaming quality in a bid to ease the strain on the continent’s broadband networks, as tens of millions of people start working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic (via Financial Times).


The EU said streaming platforms should consider offering only standard definition programming rather than high-definition, while individual users should pay attention to their data consumption.

Thierry Breton, a European commissioner in charge of digital policy, said streaming platforms and telecoms companies had a “joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet.”

Responding to the call, a Netflix spokesperson acknowledged the potential issue, but pointed to the existing tools it already provides to ISPs that allow them to store its library closer to customers, thereby easing some of the burden on the internet’s backbone.

“Commissioner Breton is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that the internet continues to run smoothly during this critical time,” the company spokesperson said. “We’ve been focused on network efficiency for many years, including providing our open connect service for free to telecommunications companies.”

Netflix’s “adaptive streaming” technology also adjusted the resolution of a video according to available bandwidth in the home or local area, they added.

YouTube declined to comment.

According to FT, there are growing worries that domestic broadband connections, which were designed to cope only with evening surges in traffic, may not be able to handle long days of adults engaging in video conferencing and children taking online classes or logging on to play games or watch movies.

EU net neutrality laws prohibit the throttling of entertainment services, but several telecoms executives from across the continent have suggested a co-operative plan to safeguard the system was possible.

Italy, one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic, has seen a threefold increase in video teleconferencing, but this has had to compete with streaming and gaming – a combination that resulted in a 75 percent rise in home broadband traffic and mobile networks over the weekend.

Meanwhile, the Spanish telecoms industry has issued a warning urging consumers to ration their internet usage by streaming and downloading more in off-peak hours. It also asked people to consider using landlines for voice calls.

On Tuesday, U.K. mobile networks suffered severe outages after the number of voice calls rose by 30 per cent and overloaded the system, leaving hundreds of thousands of customers unable to connect calls to people on other mobile networks.

On Wednesday, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) permitted Verizon, T-Mobile, and US Cellular to temporarily use additional spectrum to meet increased broadband demand.

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