Netflix has decided to cut its bandwidth by 25% in Europe, Reuters reports. This comes as traffic on home broadband surges globally on the back of remote working due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. The decision came following a call between the European Commissioner for Internal Market Thierry Breton and Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. This reduction will be in place for thirty days, Netflix said. This is a boon for the EU’s internet providers, over 12% of whose traffic is consumed by Netflix in the continent. A spokesperson for the commissioner told TechCrunch that he hopes other streaming companies will follow that example. In France, which is one of Netflix’s biggest markets in Europe, an official at the Digital Ministry told a newspaper there that he hopes Disney Plus should postpone its release. A Netflix spokesperson said that streaming quality should not be affected too much.
Net Neutrality concerns
The EU telling Netflix to reduce its bandwidth in the region is a test to Net Neutrality principles. The EU’s Net Neutrality rules vis-à-vis traffic management let this kind of application-specific discrimination happen in extreme cases, but it is not clear that Netflix’s traffic is actually clogging Europe’s internet. An Ookla analysis earlier this month showed that even as workers switched to remote working in hordes in Europe, fixed broadband speeds only declined slightly, or didn’t change at all. Traffic management during congestion should only be used when it is necessary, only for the duration needed, and should be as application-agnostic as possible, Barbara van Schewick had said in filings to TRAI. It is unclear if this change follows any of those conditions.
It is unclear if Netflix will act similarly in India, but it’s not likely. The company has very few subscribers (around 10% of the number of French subscribers at most), and so likely has a negligible weight on India’s broadband bandwidth. Even with this small traffic, Netflix has been working with telecom providers and large internet exchanges to deploy caches of its content to the last-mile in telecom operators’ networks. Curiously, Netflix did not address what it thought was fair traffic management in a TRAI Net Neutrality consultation it responded to in 2017.