Netflix to slow Europe transmissions to avoid broadband overload

Mark Sweney

Netflix has agreed to slow down the speed at which it delivers shows to subscribers to reduce its traffic across Europe by 25% – a measure that may affect picture quality for some viewers – in a deal with the EU to ensure that broadband networks perform adequately as millions of people confined to their homes go online.

Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings agreed to slow the bit rate at which it delivers programming, which determines the size and quality of video and audio files, across Europe and the UK for 30 days. Netflix has 51 million users across Europe, including 11 million in the UK.

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Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy Stock Photo

The agreement comes after talks with Thierry Breton, the industry commissioner of the EU’s executive arm, the European commission.

“Following the discussions between commissioner Thierry Breton and Reed Hastings – and given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus – Netflix has decided to begin reducing bit rates across all our streams in Europe for 30 days,” said a Netflix spokesman.

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

Netflix expects that some customers will see a reduction in picture quality, although many will not. The small number getting its most expensive package with Ultra High Definition (4K), priced at £11.99 a month, will be the most likely to notice the difference. The majority of customers pay £8.99 a month for Netflix’s standard package, which comes with high-definition quality.

Breton applauded Netflix’s decision, which will free up more bandwidth across Europe for home working and other activities as more families stay indoors due to movement restrictions and school closures.

“Social distancing measures to fight the coronavirus have led to increased demand for internet capacity be it for teleworking, e-learning or entertainment purposes,” said Breton. “I welcome the very prompt action that Netflix has taken to preserve the smooth functioning of the internet during the Covid-19 crisis while maintaining a good experience for users. Mr Hastings has demonstrated a strong sense of responsibility and solidarity. We’ll keep closely in touch to follow the evolution of the situation together.”