With millions of people self-isolating at home amid the coronavirus pandemic, Netflix has announced that it will reduce its streaming speeds to reduce strain on the internet. The decision comes in response to pressure from European Commissioner Thierry Breton, who has encouraged companies to forgo high definition and 4K streaming in favor of standard definition. The reduced streaming quality will currently only affect those Netflix subscribers in Europe.
I warmly 👍🏻 the initiative that #Google takes to preserve the smooth functioning of the Internet during the #COVID19 crisis by having #YouTube switch all 🇪🇺 traffic to SD by default. @sundarpichai and @SusanWojcicki demonstrate strong responsibility.https://t.co/jMNhFFpsxa— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) March 20, 2020
"Following the discussions between Commissioner Thierry Breton and Reed Hastings -- and given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus -- Netflix has decided to begin reducing bit rates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days," Netflix said in a statement obtained by Entertainment Weekly. "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."
Netflix, however, is not the only streaming service to heed the call. YouTube has also announced that it will be reducing the quality of videos from high definition to standard in the European Union.
"We are in ongoing conversations with the regulators, governments and network operators all over Europe, and are making a commitment to temporarily default all traffic in the UK and the EU to standard definition," the video streaming service said in a statement to CNET, adding that it has currently seen "only a few usage peaks."
The decision comes as millions of people across the globe adjust their daily lives to the global pandemic. With people now working from home, schools moving to online classes, and people resorting to streaming for entertainment, concerns have been raised over whether or not internet networks can handle the influx of demand.
Although the United States has a strong infrastructure compared to other countries, the nation's broadband capabilities are expected to be pushed further than they ever have been before, and some areas, such as rural areas, may encounter performance issues.
Speaking to the Times, according to Entertainment Weekly, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Tom Wheeler said that "we just don't know" how the infrastructure will hold up, and that "what is sufficient bandwidth for a couple of home computers for a husband and wife may not be sufficient when you add students who are going to class all day long operating from home."