YouTube Joins Netflix in Mass Video Downgrade for Pandemic Overloads

As world governments enforce an effective shutdown of nearly all physical social interactions, common people are getting ready to “live on the internet” en masse. YouTube, the most popular video platform around the globe, has announced it will significantly reduce the quality of its videos in an effort to curb bandwidth overloads during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to a recent report from The Verge, YouTube is joining other big tech platforms, such as Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Disney, and Amazon Prime, in a global effort to reduce strains on the internet as engagements increase during the coronavirus outbreak. The effort will specifically focus on the British and European Union regions after EU industry chief Thierry Breton pleaded with streaming platforms to mitigate the damage to the continent’s infrastructure. Australia has also put forth similar requests which remain pending.


It was Breton’s call with Netflix which started the novel #SwitchToStandard movement, specifically targeting peak hours for internet usage for the impacted EU and UK areas, described by a spokesperson as a “responsible option” that will help secure telecommunications infrastructures while “keeping offering the best service to users and consumers, with no disruption,” arguing these practices are already being applied elsewhere. “Covid-19 is already having a significant impact on our services and placing a greater demand on our network,” Vodafone argued in a statement to TechCrunch. “We should expect this trend of data growth to continue.”

“We are making a commitment to temporarily switch all traffic in the EU to standard definition by default,” YouTube wrote in a statement. “People are coming to YouTube to find authoritative news, learning content and make connections during these uncertain times. While we have seen only a few usage peaks, we have measures in place to automatically adjust our system to use less network capacity. We are in ongoing conversations with the regulators (including Ofcom), 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. We will continue our work to minimize stress on the system, while also delivering a good user experience.”

As the platforms prepare for damage control, the European Commission also demanded that telecom companies not undermine their obligations under Net Neutrality laws by “throttling equivalent classes of traffic” during the crisis. “The European Commission and BEREC, with the support of national regulatory authorities or competent authorities, are setting up a special reporting mechanism to ensure regular monitoring of the Internet traffic situation in each Member State to be able to respond swiftly to capacity issues,” their joint statement reads.

The EC and BEREC effectively drew a line in the sand with ISPs, arguing they can’t hide behind the ambiguity of “reasonable traffic management,” a poor definition within EU law giving the companies almost free rein to bias traffic to certain websites over others, hurting users and helping big business platforms, so long as they’re “in times of congestion.” And during a pandemic where everyone is stuck at home with nothing to use but the internet, the bigger engagement could also mean bigger exploitation. Needless to say, lawmakers are already keeping an eye out for potential foul play.

“The increase in internet traffic has not led to a general network congestion so far,” the statement reminds us, “[but it] prohibits operators from blocking, slowing down or prioritizing traffic, authorized [only] if they are reasonable, meaning that the measures shall be transparent, non-discriminatory, proportionate and based on objectively technical differences of traffic. Such measures cannot monitor specific content and cannot be maintained longer than necessary.” After all, notable telecom providers such as BT have reassured lawmakers that while weekday daytime traffic has increased, it’s still half their average evening peak and “nowhere near its network’s full capacity”.

“Europe and the whole world are facing an unprecedented situation,” Breton concluded, requesting all parties consider prioritizing essential services over any predatory short-term profits. “Governments have taken measures to reduce social interactions to contain the spread of Covid-19, and to encourage remote working and online education. 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.”

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