Netflix, YouTube and Amazon Prime Video have all agreed to a temporary reduction of the bandwidth used by their services in Europe.
Netflix said it will begin reducing bit rates across all its streams in Europe for 30 days, suggesting the initiative will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25 per cent.
The move followed a call by the European Union’s Internal Market and Services Commissioner Thierry Breton to ease the strain on the Internet during the pandemic as people work remotely during the crisis.
After a discussion with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on March 18th, Breton tweeted: “Important phone conversation with @ReedHastings, CEO of @Netflix To beat #COVID19, we #StayAtHome Teleworking & streaming help a lot but infrastructures might be in strain. To secure Internet access for all, let’s #SwitchToStandard definition when HD is not necessary.”
“Following the discussions between Commissioner Thierry Breton and Reed Hastings — and given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus — Netflix has decided to begin reducing bit rates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days,” said Netflix, with the company suggesting that this would reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25 per cent while also ensuring a good quality service for its members.
Commissioner Breton praised the “very prompt action” Netflix took just hours after the phone call, saying it would “preserve the smooth functioning of the internet during the Covid-19 crisis”.
YouTube has also agreed to scale down its video in Europe from HD to SD. “We are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default,” the Google-owned company said in a statement.
For its part, an Amazon Prime Video spokesman said: “We support the need for careful management of telecom services to ensure they can handle the increased internet demand, with so many people now at home full-time due to Covid-19. Prime Video is working with local authorities and internet service providers where needed to help mitigate any network congestion, including in Europe, where we’ve already begun the effort to reduce streaming bitrates while maintaining a quality streaming experience for our customers.”
The BBC is said to be considering similar action for its iPlayer catch-up service.
In a separate development, the European Commission and the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) called on content and application providers to cooperate with telecom providers and to consider temporarily adapting the throughput of video streaming.
In a joint statement on coping with the increased demand for network connectivity due to the Covid-19 pandemic the pair said they were committed to participate to the collective effort to support individuals and businesses to continue their activities and contacts in the best possible way through the Internet during these unprecedented times. “As measures to limit physical interactions imply increased volumes of online teaching and teleworking arrangements, the demand for Internet capacity has increased,” they noted. “Telecom operators, content and application providers and users can contribute to the smooth functioning of the Internet during this critical period. Thus, people are encouraged to make responsible use of the Internet with settings that reduce data consumption; content and application providers are also called to cooperate with telecom providers and to consider temporarily adapting the throughput of video streaming,” they declared.
The Commission and BEREC say they remain fully committed to ensuring an Open Internet in the EU and to enforce the Open Internet Access provisions of Regulation (EU) 2015/2120. The Regulation prohibits operators from blocking, slowing down or prioritising traffic. Traffic management measures are authorised if they are reasonable, meaning that the measures shall be transparent, non-discriminatory, proportionate and based on objectively technical differences of traffic (Article 3(3)). Such measures cannot monitor specific content and cannot be maintained longer than necessary.
The European Commission and BEREC note and welcome the civic responsibility of all individuals and economic operators in these difficult times.
To support these efforts, the European Commission and BEREC, with the support of national regulatory authorities (NRAs) or competent authorities, are setting up a special reporting mechanism to ensure regular monitoring of the Internet traffic situation in each Member State to be able to respond swiftly to capacity issues.
The European Commission and BEREC will assess the reports from the special monitoring process and continue to follow-up the evolution of traffic and user experience.
According to Teresa Cottam, Chief Analyst at telecoms consultancy Omnisperience, the core network may well be able to cope with quite a bit more traffic, but the network is dimensioned to carry daytime traffic from specific areas (such as business districts) back to the core. “It is not dimensioned to carry this traffic on suburban broadband – especially when this is combined with domestic usage,” she explains. “It is not just about how much data networks can handle, but data throughput in access networks for very peaky or latency sensitive traffic. In other words, the issue is bottlenecks in the access network and not capacity in the core.”