March 19, 2020 / 2:50 PM / 10 days ago

EU warns telcos against throttling internet giants as data traffic spikes

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission has warned Europe’s telecoms providers not to block content platforms in an attempt to prevent internet gridlock caused by house-bound Europeans teleworking or video streaming due to the coronavirus outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: Netflix logo is seen in front of diplayed coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in this illustration taken March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/File Photo

The telecoms industry, from world No. 2 mobile operator Vodafone to Deutsche Telekom, has in recent days reported a spike in data traffic on networks as thousands of people switched to home working or watched endless videos.

Telecoms providers can take measures to prevent gridlock for as long as necessary but must not block, slow down or prioritize traffic, the EU executive said, citing the bloc’s net neutrality rules.

The Commission, which issued the pre-emptive warning on Thursday, wants to ensure a level playing field for all, even as it worries that crucial services such as healthcare and online learning for thousands of children may be slowed by traffic congestion.

Some companies are already taking steps to address those concerns.

Netflix said it would reduce bit rates, which determine the quality and size of its audio and video files, across all its streams in Europe for 30 days after EU industry chief Thierry Breton spoke to its Chief Executive Reed Hastings.

“We estimate that this will reduce Netflix traffic on European networks by around 25%, while also ensuring a good quality service for our members,” the company said in a statement.

Netflix had over 42 million subscribers in Europe, Africa and the Middle East at the end of the first quarter of 2019, according to a filing, with the bulk estimated to be in Europe.

The Commission said in a joint statement with the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) that while operators are authorized to apply exceptional traffic management measures, “this must be done without discriminating individual content providers”.

Large tech companies and consumer groups are fervent supporters of net neutrality rules which prevent telecoms operators from blocking or throttling traffic, or offering paid fast lanes.

The telecoms industry however has long campaigned for looser rules so they too can rake in lucrative revenues. They are likely to put pressure on regulators as new streaming service Disney+ launches in Europe next week.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Kirsten Donovan and Jan Harvey

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