Netflix, Disney Throttle Video Streams In Europe To Handle COVID-19 Internet Strain

from the throttle-me dept

Netflix, Disney, YouTube, and Instagram have all announced they're temporarily throttling their video streams in Europe to help mitigate the bandwidth strain created by COVID-19, as millions hunker down to slow the spread of the pandemic. In a blog post, Netflix stated the company was throttling back the streaming quality of its titles by around 25% for 30 days after European regulators asked the company to do so to handle the pandemic-driven bandwidth surge:

"We immediately developed, tested and deployed a way to reduce Netflix’s traffic on these networks by 25% - starting with Italy and Spain, which were experiencing the biggest impact. Within 48 hours, we’d hit that goal and we’re now deploying this across the rest of Europe and the UK."

Netflix had already integrated settings that let users on slower or capped broadband plans manage their bit rate and stream quality. According to the company, the impact on visual quality should be minor (for everybody but videophiles, anyway):

"In normal circumstances, we have many (sometimes dozens) of different streams for a single title within each resolution. In Europe, for the next 30 days, within each category we’ve simply removed the highest bandwidth streams. If you are particularly tuned into video quality you may notice a very slight decrease in quality within each resolution. But you will still get the video quality you paid for."

So far, Netflix has yet to indicate that similar measures will be coming to the United States, though it's certainly possible as more and more locations engage in everything from voluntary self-quarantines to mandatory shelter in place requirements. Disney's Disney+ service, which launches across Europe on Tuesday, will similarly incorporate a bitrate throttling scheme for the foreseeable future. The company's launch of Disney+ in France has been delayed until April 7 at the request of the French government.

Many telecom executives and experts I've spoken to about the strain COVID-19 will place on U.S. networks have remained largely optimistic the U.S. internet will be able to handle the load, though many are quick to point out that it's hard to make predictions given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic--and the US' historic inability to craft accurate broadband speed and availability maps:

"Blair Levin was a former FCC chief of staff and co-author of the agency’s 2010 “National Broadband Plan."...

“I don't think anyone knows,” Levin said. “First, the FCC has done such a poor job of collecting data that we don't know where we are on many points. Second, we really don't know how much bigger the bandwidth demands will be. So this situation will be a stress test and show us where we are strong and where we are weak."

Most of those weaknesses shouldn't be particularly surprising for Techdirt readers. The central transit core of the US internet shouldn't have problems; it's the spotty, expensive, and slow "last mile" where a lot of headaches will pop up. US telcos, who've neglected their infrastructure for years, have refused to upgrade (or in some instances even repair) the nation's aging DSL lines. As entire families attempt to use sluggish era-2003 speeds to teleconference and stream video, games, and music, problems will inevitably arise (especially on the upstream side). VPNs could also be another congestion point.

But the biggest problem remains affordability and availability. For years, arguments that broadband should be seen as an essential utility were brushed aside, and now the "digital divide" could easily become a matter of life and death. Some 44 million Americans can't get any kind of broadband whatsoever, and thanks to limited U.S. competition (especially at faster speeds), many more can't afford a decent connection. This patchy, expensive, barely competitive nature of US telecom networks is something the industry's biggest players have lobbied to perpetuate for years, and now the check is likely coming due for many.

Filed Under: bandwidth, covid-19, europe, networks, streaming, throttling, video streams
Companies: disney, instagram, netflix, youtube

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  1. icon
    PaulT (profile), 26 Mar 2020 @ 5:18am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    "Oh, i know. There's a matter of degree though. The road must accommodate nominal peak traffic."

    Well, that's my point. If you want to criticise them for not be able to support such peak traffic then fine, but that is absolutely not what's happening here. You might as well be attacking supermarkets for not having a monster stockpile of toilet roll. They could only plan for what was predictable, then react when the unpredictable happened.

    "I fail to see how given that the "plan" as normal included having to exponentially expand bandwidth to cover a 4k streaming standard, 5G, and of course the late riser of game streaming."

    Because that plan was over the space of many years. Where I live, much of the old ADSL connectivity has been replaced with fibre capable of getting many times more bandwidth. But, that's not happened in 100% of places yet, and some of the tech itself wasn't in place a decade before. It's not poor planning to have not rolled our fibre installation to every tiny village in Spain yet.

    Again, they can plan to invest in infrastructure in order for those services to be supported properly when they become the norm. That doesn't mean it'll be magically in place when they get 1000% higher demand overnight because the government ordered people to stay inside and watch netflix.

    "The rational explanation - or even the self-evident one - is that default operational capacity wasn't designed to meet the standard marketing plan either."

    No, that's just you exposing your ignorance of how these things work. Networks are usually nowhere near maximum capacity, so they are provisioned to presume that only a certain level of usage will happen at certain times. Again - if this is always failing, you have a point. If it's only happening because the entire population of a country is being told to stay indoors due to an emergency pandemic situation, you do not. This is simple logistics and applies to every service you use - nothing is prepared automatically for situations like this, which is why you're seeing empty shelves, etc.

    "The only reason regulators are involving themselves in this is because when a pandemic hits they all want to be observed doing "their part"."

    So, damned if they do, damned if they don't. You don't see them panicking and you assume they do nothing. they visibly do their jobs and it's just a play for the cameras. In fact, some regulators have not got involved at all here, but these services have opted to apply these measures EU-wide rather than deal with individual regulators after there's a problem.

    "what I'm seeing here isn't an unplanned-for tsunami hit a network unprepared for it"

    Then you're deliberately ignoring the current issue. Also, where are you applying your comments? The US is very different to Europe and, say, the UK is very different to Poland in terms of the network and regulation. Put down that broad brush and at least target the people who have not been doing their jobs, rather than the people whose network was fully prepared until the entire country was shut in their houses.

    For what it's worth, I've personally not seen any issues before or after the lockdown where I am in terms of service either through netflix or my ISP, and that's with many of the local bars organising virtual hangouts for hundreds of people where everyone who'd normally be in the bars can see local musicians etc., with no complaints about streaming quality or bandwidth despite the fact that everyone watching would normally be out at the timw.

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