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March 20, 2020

Is the Internet Going to “Break” Under the Pressure of Traffic Surges?

"Operators are authorised to apply exceptional traffic management measures..."

By CBR Staff Writer

The European Commission has publicly thanked major streaming providers for their efforts to throttle their bandwidth use, amid growing pressure on European internet infrastructure, as hundreds of millions of citizens across the continent spend more time online at home for work and recreational purposes.

The EC confirmed that it had spoken to the CEO’s of Netflix and YouTube to ask them to reduce bit rates in the EU for the next 30 days (Netflix and YouTube will both switch video playing quality to standard definition by default) and pointedly told ISPs that there is wriggle room in existing “open internet” legislation.

The Commission added that it had set up “a special reporting mechanism (“BEREC”) to monitor the internet traffic situation”. Any major internet outage at a time of heightened social pressure, mandatory confinement across many member states and high reliance on networks could wreak havoc that policy makers are keen to avoid.

European Commission: Hey, Thanks… 

Commissioner for internal markets Thierry Breton commented that: “As millions of Europeans are adapting to social distancing measures thanks to digital platforms, helping them to telework, e-learn and entertain themselves, I warmly welcome the initiatives by Google and Netflix to preserve the smooth functioning of the Internet during the COVID19 crisis.

“I highly appreciate the strong sense of responsibility shown by the two streaming services. We will closely follow the evolution of the situation together. I will also continue to discuss with other relevant services.”

A 2019 Global Internet Phenomena Report from Sandvine found that Netflix alone accounted for 12.6 percent of the all downstream traffic on the internet.

Google accounted for 12 percent of overall internet traffic.

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The Internet Breaking? Pretty Unlikely… 

David Belson, director of Internet research and analysis at the Internet Society told Computer Business Review that: “The concerns over ‘breaking the Internet’ are unfounded for a variety of reasons, including the deployment of Netflix caches within subscriber networks and participation in local Internet Exchange Points, as well as their use of adaptive streaming technologies that automatically adjust stream quality in real time based on network conditions and available bandwidth.”

He added: “Regulators should be pushing telecommunications service providers to commit to make high-speed broadband connectivity more widely available within their countries, and to ensure that it is affordable to all, and holding these providers accountable to their commitments.”

“A More Fundamental Problem”

The push to reduce internet traffic by streaming platforms follows calls from the EU for users’ themselves to be conscious of their internet uses during this time of increased demand. In what is seen as early preventive exercises the EU is asking internet users to reduced data consumption by viewing content in lower resolutions.

Extreme Networks’ CTO, Eric Broockman told Computer Business Review: “Asking Netflix to reduce its streaming rates merely alleviates the symptoms of a more fundamental problem, instead of tackling its roots – especially as a lot of other streaming, video conferencing and cloud services will continue to put unusually high volumes of data across networks.”

He added: “In an ideal world, network operators would obviously upgrade their infrastructure and invest in cloud-based solutions to make their networks as agile, resilient and flexible as possible. However, the reality is that this is a race against time for network operators that need to find a solution to this problem now, rather than in a few months or years down the line.

“So, in the short term, what network operators could do to reduce the pressure on their networks and ensure connectivity for all is to deprioritise non-essential traffic coming from applications such as online gaming. This would then free up bandwidth for essential services, including voice & video traffic, and ease the pressure on the network without impacting service levels too much.”

“Operators are authorised to apply exceptional traffic management measures, inter alia, to prevent impending network congestion”

The Commission added: “[We] remain fully committed to ensuring an Open Internet in the EU and to enforce the Open Internet Access provisions of Regulation (EU) 2015/2120.

(The Regulation prohibits operators from blocking, slowing down or prioritising traffic.)

“Pursuant to the Regulation, operators are authorised to apply exceptional traffic management measures, inter alia, to prevent impending network congestion and to mitigate the effects of exceptional or temporary network congestion, always under the condition that equivalent categories of traffic are treated equally.

“This could become relevant, following the confinement measures taken to address the Covid-19 crisis. Operators can avail themselves of this exception, if such traffic management measures are necessary to solve or to prevent the congestion.”

See Also: Five Clicks, Seven Days Off Work with New NHS Digital “Isolation Note”

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