EU asks Netflix to limit services to protect broadband infrastructure

19 Mar 2020

Image: © CDPiC/

EU Commissioner Thierry Breton has urged streaming platforms, telecoms operators and individual internet users to take responsibility for their actions in the coming weeks.

EU Commissioner for internal market and services Thierry Breton has warned that online streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube may be putting Europe’s broadband infrastructure under strain as millions work from home across the continent to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

On Twitter, Breton commented that he was in discussion with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings about the pressure that streaming services could be putting on broadband infrastructure in Europe.

Future Human

Breton shared the hashtag #SwitchToStandard, and advised people to stream in standard definition rather than HD during this time, in order to “secure internet access for all”.

In a lengthier statement, Breton said: “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 EU has called on streaming services such as Netflix and YouTube to limit their services to prevent broadband networks from crashing.

In addition, the EU said that users should be responsible about their data consumption, as domestic broadband connections have only been designed to cope with evening surges in traffic, according to the Financial Times.

Traffic surge

The EU is now concerned that the infrastructure may not be able to host long days of video conferencing and online classes, followed by evenings of streaming video and movies. Due to EU net neutrality laws, particular services cannot be restricted, but the Financial Times reported that telecoms executives in Europe have been looking at ways to cooperate to protect the system.

Italy has seen a three-fold increase in the use of video conferencing since its full lockdown began, which contributed to a 75pc rise in residential data traffic and mobile networks last weekend, according to Telecom Italia.

In Spain, telecoms companies warned users that they should be rationing their internet usage by streaming and downloading in off-peak hours.

Mobile network operator Vodafone said that higher data traffic on its networks as a result of the Covid-19 crisis has resulted in a 50pc increase in demand in some European markets. In the UK, Vodafone said that its peak usage hours would have typically been between 6pm and 8pm, but that window has now extended from 12pm to 8pm.

The response

In the coming days, the EU Commission and Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) is set to launch a special reporting mechanism that will allow EU countries to monitor the status of internet traffic in their nations.

A spokesperson from Netflix said: “Commissioner Breton is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that the internet continues to run smoothly during this critical time.

“We’ve been focused on network efficiency for many years, including providing our open connect service for free to telecommunications companies.”

Netflix also said that its “adaptive streaming” technology can adjust the resolution of a video depending on the available bandwidth in the home or local area.

Meanwhile, in the US, major telecoms operators such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint have taken the Federal Communications Commission’s pledge to Keep Americans Connected by ensuring that they will not end service for individual or small business customers who aren’t able to pay their bills as a result of measures taken to slow the spread of Covid-19.

Kelly Earley was a journalist with Silicon Republic