EU wants streaming platforms to ease internet gridlock amid virus crisis

FILE PHOTO: The Netflix logo is seen on their office in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, U.S. July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU Industry Chief Thierry Breton has called on video streaming platforms such as Netflix and Alphabet unit YouTube to take measures to prevent internet gridlock caused by people teleworking and streaming at home due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The European Commission said abnormal traffic distribution risks straining the internet infrastructure at a time when it was needed for healthcare services, online teaching and other uses.

“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,” Breton said in a statement on Wednesday.

He urged streaming platforms to cooperate with telecom providers and temporarily downgrade the quality of video streaming by offering standard definition rather than high definition.

Breton said telecoms operators should also take measures to lessen network congestion and users should use settings and WiFi to reduce data consumption.

Earlier on Wednesday, he spoke with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on measures to alleviate congested internet capacity, with a switch to standard definition during peak time as a best option.

Breton’s comments came as world No. 2 mobile operator Vodafone pointed to higher data traffic on its networks due to the coronavirus crisis, with demand already rising 50% in some markets.

Some European telecoms providers have also reported connectivity problems and a surge in data traffic in recent days. This in part has been driven by companies giving free data, downloads and films to clients to show their support during the coronavirus crisis.

The Commission and the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) will set up a special reporting mechanism to monitor the internet traffic situation in each EU country.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio