Netflix and YouTube have agreed to cut video streaming quality to alleviate the burden on broadband networks caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Following a plea from the EU, video content streamed via YouTube will only be available in standard definition for the next 30 days, as opposed to high definition or 4K. Netflix has said it will decrease its streaming bitrates for an equivalent period, reducing the platform’s data consumption by 25%.
Although providers insist infrastructure can cope with traffic fluctuations, the EU fears networks could crumble under the surge in content streaming, online gaming and remote working brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
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Domestic broadband is well equipped to cope with evening traffic surges, but social distancing measures introduced by governments across the globe are forcing citizens to entertain themselves at home, further aggravating these periods of high traffic.
Scott Petty, CTO at UK telecoms firm Vodafone, says peak traffic is no longer confined to the evenings, but now extends from midday to 9pm.
Meanwhile, Telecom Italia recorded a 75 percent increase in Italian data traffic over the weekend, with online games such as Fortnite and Call of Duty responsible for a significant proportion of the jump.
According to Theirry Breton, a European commissioner responsible for digital policy, telecoms companies, content platforms and users share a “joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet” during periods of quarantine.
Breton held discussions with the chief executives of Netflix, Alphabet and Youtube, and has secured the cooperation of the content streaming platforms.
“Following the discussions between Commissioner Thierry Breton and [Netflix CEO] Reed Hastings, and given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus, Netflix has decided to begin reducing bitrates across all our streams in Europe,” said a Netflix spokesperson.
The sentiment was echoed by YouTube, which confirmed it is also “making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default.”
Neither platform has yet confirmed whether gridlock prevention measures will be rolled out in other regions, such as North America.
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