EU asks Netflix to lower its quality as people isolate from coronavirus

EU asks Netflix to lower its quality as people isolate from coronavirus
Editor at TechForge Media. Often sighted at global tech conferences with a coffee in one hand and laptop in the other. If it's geeky, I'm probably into it.

The EU has asked Netflix to lower its video quality as more people use the service to bring some joy during their coronavirus lockdowns.

Netflix typically accounts for around 13 percent of global internet traffic and has required an increasing amount of bandwidth as the streaming giant releases an increasing library of 4K and HDR content.

Over concerns that an expected surge in Netflix traffic may cause networks to grind to a halt during a time they’re needed most, the EU has persuaded Netflix to reduce its streaming bitrates in a measure it expects to cut traffic by 25 percent.

“Netflix has decided to begin reducing bit rates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25 percent while also ensuring a good quality service for our members.”

“They don’t understand how the internet works”

Several experts criticised the EU’s move, however well-intentioned, as simply reducing consumers’ enjoyment during a time when they need it most.

“That just tells me they don’t understand how the internet works,” David Clark, a senior research scientist at MIT’s Computer Science and AI Laboratory, told Decrypt.

“Unless your goal was to preferentially downgrade entertainment television to make sure something important was getting through, just let the system run because it self adapts,” Clark said. “There is a lot of ability in the system to absorb demand shock.”

Operators themselves have also expressed confidence in handling the demand.

Broadband provider BT provided these facts earlier today:

  • The UK is one of the world’s most advanced digital economies, so we overbuild our networks to compensate for our love of high-definition streaming content, video gaming and other bandwidth-hungry applications. In contrast, online conferencing services, even video-calls, consume far less bandwidth.

  • The UK’s fixed broadband network core is built (with a lot of ‘headroom’) to support the ‘evening peak’ of network traffic, driven by these high-bandwidth applications. The highest peak we’ve seen in evening traffic was 17.5Tb/s, driven by videogame updates and streaming football.

  • In contrast, daytime usage, during working hours, generally runs at about 5 Tb/s.

  • Since Tuesday this week, as people started to work from home more extensively, we’ve seen weekday daytime traffic increase 35-60% compared with similar days on the fixed network, peaking at 7.5Tb/s.

  • This is still only around half the average evening peak, and nowhere near the 17.5 Tb/s we have proved the network can handle.

Meanwhile, Virgin Media wrote in a post on its website: “As more people may be working from home at the moment, it’s important to know our network can withstand any increased usage, including peaks throughout the day, in the evenings and at weekends. As usage rises, our existing capacity will be able to take it – but we’ll have a close eye on things and make changes if we need to."

For some perspective from a mobile operator, Orange CEO Stephane Richard told France’s RTL radio: “We have a network conceived to absorb considerable flows,” while expressing confidence to withstand any isolation-related surge.

As the EU once again struggles to formulate a coherent response to a crisis, this initial measure hasn’t been received quite as intended.

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