Several major tech giants, including Netflix, Apple, Amazon, Sony and Google, announced last week that they were going to reduce streaming quality in Europe, following a request by the European Union to stabilize the Internet in the territory.
With larger-than-usual amounts of people at home and using streaming there, European Commissioner Thierry Breton requested that the companies reduce their streaming bitrates for at least 30 days, and they all agreed to do so. In addition, Disney agreed to delay the launch of its Disney+ streaming service in France, which had been scheduled for this week along with the service's debut in Europe.
At the time, there was a no indication that any similar restriction had been asked for by government officials in the U.S., or that the companies were planning to make such a move. But now, one of the companies has agreed to throttle its video traffic everywhere.
YouTube has announced that they will now reduce video quality worldwide, Bloomberg News was the first to report. The streaming giant, which is owned by Google parent company Alphabet, will make the move in the coming days, putting videos in standard definition as a default. Users, however, will be able to switch to HD manually.
"Given the global nature of this crisis, we will expand that change globally starting today," Google said in a statement.
“We continue to work closely with governments and network operators around the globe to do our part to minimize stress on the system during this unprecedented situation."
There's no indication that any of the other companies are planning such a worldwide throttling.
The companies were asked to reduce speeds because streaming video takes up much more bandwidth than what is required for most other Internet functions.
A Sandvine study last year, as cited by Bloomberg, found that Google, across all of its services, was the top consumer of Internet traffic worldwide with 12 percent, followed by Netflix, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon. Those six companies, in fact, use 43 percent of the Internet's traffic, with all other companies combining for the remaining 57 percent.
Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons.