No, streaming Netflix in HD won’t kill the internet right now

As social distancing becomes the norm due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of people are suddenly turning to streaming services like Netflix to keep themselves occupied while isolated. According to Verizon, video streaming in the U.S. was up 12% last week over the week before, and all signs suggest that number will continue to climb.

With all those people streaming video in high definition, along with increased web conferencing as people work from home, can internet infrastructure handle it, or will our broadband grind to a halt?

It’s enough of a concern that the European Union recently asked Netflix to force users to stream in standard definition in order to reduce any possible internet strain. European Commissioner Thierry Breton tweeted on Wednesday that he spoke with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings about essentially throttling use.

“Teleworking & streaming help a lot but infrastructures might be in strain,” Breton tweeted. “To secure internet access for all, let’s #SwitchToStandard definition when HD is not necessary.”

Important phone conversation with @ReedHastings, CEO of @Netflix

To beat #COVID19, we #StayAtHome

Teleworking & streaming help a lot but infrastructures might be in strain.

To secure Internet access for all, let’s #SwitchToStandard definition when HD is not necessary.

— Thierry Breton (@ThierryBreton) March 18, 2020

Here’s the thing: Experts say Americans shouldn’t be worried about being forced to switch to standard definition streaming due to slower broadband speeds, otherwise known as network degradation.

“We are not seeing network degradation in the United States right now as far as we can tell,” said John Busby, managing director at BroadbandNow. “I don’t have a huge concern.”

BroadbandNow, a website that helps people find internet service providers in their area, released a study on Wednesday about internet connections in U.S. cities as more people shift to working remotely amid what is commonly known as the coronavirus outbreak. 

The study compared this past week’s average download speeds in 10 major cities to the average download speeds in the last 10 weeks. The study found that for six of those cities, the average download speeds remained the same this week. Only four cities — Houston, New York City, San Diego, and San Jose, California — had lower download speeds, but Busby said that those dips were not substantial. 

Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Seattle all remained at the same download speed. Busby said that BroadbandNow is continuing to monitor download speeds in smaller and midsize cities to compare those numbers as well. 

Busby did say that BroadbandNow’s internet traffic over the last few days was the highest it has ever been in the site’s history. 

“A lot of people are shopping or looking at internet provider options,” he said. “People are recognizing now that they need more internet.”

So as long as download speed trends continue as they have been, our self-quarantine entertainment and work done from home should not suffer from slow internet speeds. 

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