Commission: Internet ‘under strain’ amid COVID-19 overuse

European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, Thierry Breton give a press conference on a new strategy on Europe?s Digital Future at European Commission in Brussels, Belgium, 19 February 2020. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The EU’s internet infrastructure is ‘under strain’ and a series of measures should be implemented by online streaming platforms as a means to mitigate the higher demand for bandwidth amid the current coronavirus quarantine period, the European Commission said on Wednesday evening (18 March).

The demand for internet capacities has increased following the decision by certain EU governments, as well as many public authorities and businesses across Europe, to ask citizens to stay at home.

Use of entertainment platforms, including film streaming and online gaming, has also significantly increased, leading the EU executive to put forward a number of measures aiming to mitigate the strain on internet capacities that have come as a result.

A statement from the executive on Wednesday evening read that “abnormal traffic distribution risks putting Internet infrastructure under strain right when we need it to be operational at the best possible level.”

Commission recommendations 

“Europe and the whole world are facing an unprecedented situation. Governments have taken measures to reduce social interactions to contain the spread of COVID-19, and to encourage remote working and online education,” said the EU’s Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton.

“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.”

The measures that the Commission would like to see enacted by certain high-capacity streaming platforms, include “temporarily offering Standard Definition rather than High Definition” video content, as well as calling on telecom operators to “take measures in order to prevent and mitigate the impacts of impending network congestion.”

Moreover, the Commission would like to see web users themselves taking more responsibility in their online habits, bearing in mind the current strain networks are under. Such should include using Wi-Fi rather than mobile networks, and choosing lower resolution for content whenever possible, the executive said.

Netflix

Along this axis, Breton spoke with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on Wednesday to discuss some of the suggestions that the Commission was considering. A spokesperson from the company told EURACTIV that Commissioner Breton was “right to highlight the importance of ensuring that the Internet continues to run smoothly during this critical time.”

The spokesperson added that Netflix has been focused on network efficiency “for many years,” and that the company’s ‘open connect service’, which provides local content servers to Internet Service Providers and telecommunications companies for free, results in a reduction of internet capacity usage.   

The Commission’s move on Wednesday evening comes as certain member states weight up their options with regards to the challenges brought on by a significant hike in internet use.

In this regard, the Austrian Regulatory Authority for Broadcasting and Telecommunications (RTR) has recently given the green light for restrictions to be placed on the data consumed on high-capacity websites, including video streaming services.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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