With so many countries on forced lockdowns to fight the spread of the virus, hundreds of millions working from home and even more children out of school, EU officials are concerned about the huge strain on internet bandwidth.
In a statement on Thursday, Breton said that given the unprecedented situation, streaming platforms, telecom operators and users “all have a joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet during the battle against the virus propagation.”
A Netflix spokesperson told CNN Business that Hastings and Breton will speak again on Thursday.
“Commissioner Breton is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that the internet continues to run smoothly during this critical time,” the Netflix spokesperson said. “We’ve been focused on network efficiency for many years, including providing our open connect service for free to telecommunications companies.”
Netflix said it already adjusts the quality of streams to available network capacity, and uses a special delivery network that keeps its library closer to users as a way of consuming less bandwidth.
The Commission said that while there has been a sharp increase in internet usage, no outages or adverse affects have so far been reported. EU officials said they would work with the regulator that oversees electronic communications in the bloc to set up a special reporting mechanism to monitor internet traffic and respond to capacity issues.
Telecom operators said they support calls for customers to switch to standard definition streaming.
“At this stage, new traffic patterns are being effectively handled by engineers as per standard network operations,” Lise Fuhr, director general of the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association, said in a statement. “We support the European Commission’s effort to ensure that national governments and national regulators have all the tools they need to keep networks strong across the continent.”
“Even if the same heavy data traffic that we see each evening were to run throughout the daytime, there is still enough capacity for work applications to run simultaneously,” he said.
But the internet is clearly under pressure.
He described the increase in demand as “well beyond” the main annual spike usually seen on New Year’s Eve. Voice and video calls on WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, in particular, are more than double usual levels.
It’s not just extra video streaming that is straining internet infrastructure, said Kin K. Leung, professor of internet technology at Imperial College London. As businesses, schools and universities close down, and millions study and work from home, livestreaming of classes and video conferencing will increase exponentially.
Livestreaming is more demanding on the internet than video streaming, where the data is chopped up into packets that are shipped individually, and buffered, or loaded, separately if necessary to prevent disruption, Leung said.
He said he was concerned about the United Kingdom’s ability to handle the surge in demand, but confident that everyone will have good access.
Just as people are taking steps to avoid unnecessary social contact and practicing better hygiene to help fight the pandemic, so they should think about whether they really need to livestream a lecture, for example, rather than recording it, Leung said.
“Be a bit more conscious about the demand every one of us places on the internet, that is a good step to help out and ease the overload,” he added.