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COVID-19 Spike in Internet Traffic Could Force Netflix to Ditch HD

Blurrier video could help keep the internet going.

To limit the spread of the coronavirus, people who normally go to work telecommute, and people who might normally head out for entertainment are staying home and streaming video. It all adds up to a ton of extra internet usage — up to 50 percent more in some European Union countries — that could put a strain on the infrastructure that makes the internet possible. No outages have been reported yet, and the EU is taking steps to make sure that remains the case.

Thierry Breton, the EU commissioner for internal market, tweeted yesterday that he had spoken with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings about transitioning from high definition to standard definition streaming, a move that could dramatically reduce the bandwidth taken up by its subscribers.

“Commissioner Breton is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that the internet continues to run smoothly during this critical time,” a Netflix spokesperson told CNN. “We’ve been focused on network efficiency for many years, including providing our open connect service for free to telecommunications companies.”

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As far as we know similar conversations between American regulators and Netflix have not occurred, but if the American system gets stretched to near its breaking point it will be incumbent on US authorities to keep everyone online.

Standard definition Netflix is far from ideal, but it’s a hell of a lot better than losing access to the internet altogether. Online news is the number one source of information about the pandemic for many people, and a way for governments to communicate with their constituents. Losing it would be disastrous.

So while we hope that you’ll be able to binge Stranger Things in 4K or 1080p throughout the pandemic, watching the adventures of Eleven and the gang in 720p is a small price to pay to keep everyone online, informed, and entertained.