Saturday, April 4, 2020

Containment: Netflix Reduces Quality to Free Up Bandwidth

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And if your favorite movies or series lose image quality … for your good. Due to the current tension on streaming platforms, confinement requires, high definition content will soon no longer load at all on your screen.

The European Commissioner responsible for the internal market Thierry Breton thus called on Wednesday the streaming platforms, the telecommunications operators but also the users to a form of digital sobriety while the Internet networks are used as never in full confinement.

In concrete terms, they are all asked to lower – especially during the day – the quality of High Definition or 4K videos in Standard format, the visual equivalent of a DTT channel.

Netflix represents 20% of French Internet traffic

Netflix communicated Thursday evening and announced “it has decided to reduce the flow of all its videos in Europe for 30 days”. The American platform estimates that “this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by 25% while maintaining good quality of service for our subscribers”.

A 20-minute episode, watched at the same time by thousands of consumers, involves passing several gigabits per second of data in real time over the Internet.

There was an urgent need to act because the American company represents no less than 20% of French Internet traffic, according to the latest data from Arcep. Objective of this temporary reduction: free up bandwidth for activities with higher priority than leisure.

“The priorities for the country are clear: rescue and health services, the possibility of working from home, getting information, communicating, studying”, said Arthur Dreyfuss, president of the French Federation of Telecoms representing the ISPs. “We all expect content platforms to be, as operators and the French are, up to the challenges that the crisis imposes on us” he insists.

“The platforms have the possibility of switching to a lower video quality but their premium subscribers, who pay more to have a High Definition quality, could ask for compensation even if it is a trivial question compared to the current issue”, analyzes Julien Pillot, professor of economics at Inseec and author of “Who can stop Netflix?

Bridging prohibited by Europe

ISPs, for their part, have the technical means to restrict the flow to and from any site or server, but this poses a legal problem.

Since the early 2000s, European legislation has prohibited them from reducing access to one service or another in the name of net neutrality considered to be a benefit for the consumer.

The Regulation on access to an open Internet of 2015 thus protects European Internet users from any restrictions decided unilaterally by an ISP who wishes to favor one content over another. An exceptional and temporary regime would therefore be necessary to give them authorization in this exceptional period.

“The Body of European Regulators of Electronic Communications (Berec) could give instructions to national regulatory authorities but the only one who could break this lock would be the State,” said Etienne Drouard, lawyer specializing in IT law and electronic communication networks.

“If he had to take the initiative, he would then have to specify legally which services are priority and this would necessarily be temporary without jeopardizing European protection in the long term,” details this personal data specialist from the firm Hogan Lovells.

Self-regulation for now

According to our information, there has not yet been a request from the government to operators to prioritize certain speeds. But the threat hangs if the networks were to massively crash or saturate.

It is therefore advisable to favor downloads of content during off-peak hours, preferably after 11 pm, and to connect to wi-fi as much as possible to also relieve mobile networks.

If you subscribe to Netflix, you can reduce the data consumption by yourself in the playback settings by following these instructions from the official website.

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