Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Instagram Throttle Internet Streams in Europe

Courtesy of Amazon Studios
Amazon Prime's 'The Grand Tour'

Following similar moves by Netflix, YouTube and Disney+, more media and technology companies are lowering their online video quality in Europe to prevent disruption of service as streaming surges amid stay-at-home orders.

Amazon, Facebook, Instagram and Apple have joined Netflix, YouTube and Disney+ in complying with government requests in Europe to temporarily reduce online video bit rates as streaming demand surges during the coronavirus crisis.

Across the board, media and technology giants are temporarily throttling their online streaming services in Europe to avoid congestion or breakdown in service as more people are forced to stay at home.

"To help alleviate any potential network congestion, we will temporarily reduce bit rates for videos on Facebook and Instagram in Europe," Facebook, which has more than 300 million daily users, said in a statement. "We are committed to working with our partners to manage any bandwidth constraints during this period of heavy demand, while also ensuring people are able to remain connected using Facebook apps and services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Amazon, whose originals include The Grand Tour, has also reduced bit rate speeds in Europe for its Amazon Prime video service. Following a similar move by Netflix, Amazon has removed the option to stream series and films in the bandwidth-heavy high-definition format.

Google-owned YouTube, Europe's largest video streaming site, set the default option for all of its videos to standard definition across Europe, but users still have the option to toggle viewing quality to HD.

Over the weekend, Disney announced it would put in place measures to lower the overall bandwidth utilization of its Disney+ service when it launches across much of Europe on Tuesday. Disney said the measures should “lower  our overall bandwidth utilization by at least 25 percent” in all European territories where Disney+ is launching March 24, including the U.K., Ireland, Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain and Switzerland. Disney has pushed back the launch of Disney+ in France to April 7 at the request of the French government.

Apple, which bowed its Apple TV+ online service last November, has also voluntarily throttled its video bit rate in Europe to avoid straining the continent's network.

The moves come after the European Union's Internal Market and Services Commissioner Thierry Breton called on online video companies to do their part in reducing bandwidth demand. Breton expressed concerns that as millions of Europeans remain indoors amid stay-at-home orders, increased demand could tax online networks.

Netflix on Thursday said it was reducing bit rates across Europe, initially for 30 days, a move expected to reduce bandwidth demand for Netflix traffic by around 25 percent.

On Friday, Europe's government and regulatory bodies have authorized the European Union's telecom operators and Internet service providers to apply exceptional measures, including the throttling of online speeds, to prevent network congestion.

With most of Europe's citizens under stay-at-home orders, demand for online services, from teleworking tools and online classes to video and gaming streaming sites, has shot up. So far, however, there have been no reports of major network disruption.

Other countries appear to be copying Europe's preemptive throttling approach. In India, the association of cellular operators, COAI, has written to streaming platforms and the government's department of telecommunications to take measures, including temporarily moving to standard definition streaming, to ease the pressure on the nation's online infrastructure

Meanwhile, in Israel, the communications ministry Monday said Netflix will comply with a government request to reduce streaming quality in the country to help ease data congestion. Israeli Internet service providers have reported an average increase of as much as 30 percent since the coronavirus outbreak.