Netflix asked to curb HD video to ease pressure on networks in Europe

Netflix and other streaming video service providers are being asked to scale back on HD and other bandwidth-intensive content that puts more stress on networks.

European Commissioner Thierry Breton released a statement saying “streaming platforms, telecom operators and users, we all have a joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet during the battle against the virus propagation.”

CNN Business said that Breton spoke with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings Wednesday about the strain that working from home and streaming may be putting on infrastructure, and said the two plan to speak again today.

"Commissioner Breton is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that the internet continues to run smoothly during this critical time," a Netflix spokesperson told the publication. "We've been focused on network efficiency for many years, including providing our open connect service for free to telecommunications companies."

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Indeed, as people stay inside during the coronavirus outbreak, streaming is seeing an uptick not only for entertainment, but for educational and work-related reasons as well. Video technology company Wurl has been tracking streaming video increases across different countries. The firm found that between March 14 and 15, streaming time rose 44% in Austria, 17% in Canada, 12% in Switzerland, 32% in Germany, 42% in Spain, 14% in France and 14% in Great Britain.

“During the last three days alone, our network technology has shown a 20-40% increase in streaming viewership around the world,” said Wurl CEO Sean Doherty on Tuesday. His company is tracking the increases across 100 million devices using a variety of services.

In the U.S., Wurl measured a 7.5% increase in streaming time between March 14 and 15. However, it’s unclear if the current increases in the U.S. will drive the same kind of push away from HD that’s occurring in Europe.

In February, OpenVault issued a new broadband industry report for the fourth quarter, and predicted that median monthly usage by broadband subscribers in 2020 was on pace to surpass 250 GB for the first time. However, that was before most Americans began staying home to help stop the spread of coronavirus. Nielsen estimated that staying put can lead to a 60% increase in the amount of content people watch in some cases.

AT&T, Comcast, Charter, Verizon, T-Mobile and other major internet service providers are bracing for the usage spikes on networks. In many cases, service providers are temporarily lifting the data caps intended to curb overuse of networks.