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EU telecoms operators granted permission for ‘fair’ management of online traffic

EC and BEREC allow telcos unprecedented network traffic control to mitigate the effects of network congestion due to the massive increase in home working caused by the coronavirus

The Body of the European Regulators of Electronic Communications (BEREC) and the European Commission (EC) have authorised the EU’s telecoms operators to apply exceptional traffic management measures to prevent impending network congestion from millions of extra home workers as a result of distancing measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The EU bodies said they recognised that telcos were playing a critical role in the crisis response to Covid-19. They noted that many operators had already taken measures to cope with the abnormal traffic distribution linked to remote working and online education and were already redistributing network capacity on regional and local networks according to the changed traffic pattern in terms of both time slots and geography.

In enabling telcos to mitigate the effects of exceptional or temporary network congestion, the EC and BEREC said they were participating in the collective effort to support companies continuing their activities and keeping citizens in contact through the internet during these “unprecedented” times. However, BEREC and the EC stressed that such traffic management action was permissible on condition that equivalent categories of traffic were treated equally.

The order came a day after Thierry Breton, European commissioner for internal markets, contacted Netflix CEO Reed Hastings to ask for the subscription video-on-demand service to end broadcasting content in high-definition and switch to the substantially less network-intensive standard definition so as to assist the millions of additional workers who have been forced to use home networks and use collaboration and teleworking tools to help prevent the spread of Covid-19.

Netflix subsequently agreed to the appeal and has decided to begin reducing bit rates across all streams in Europe for 30 days, a move it says will reduce its traffic on European networks by about 25% while still ensuring a good-quality service.

To ensure regular monitoring of the internet traffic situation in each member state, the EC and BEREC, with the support of national regulatory authorities or competent authorities, are setting up a reporting mechanism to ensure a follow-up on the evolution of traffic and user experience.

“We are currently not seeing any major congestion problems and network operators seem to be coping well with the higher traffic load in the networks,” said BEREC chairman Dan Sjöblom. “But we nevertheless need to stay vigilant and be ready for if the situation changes.

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“This is an extreme and unprecedented situation we are witnessing and we have seen over the past couple of days just how quickly things can change. BEREC is in the process of establishing a special reporting mechanism and we will clarify how this will work in further communication.

“We expect this work to be ready soon, as we are not looking to build a completely new monitoring structure, but rather strengthening already existing mechanisms for information sharing among national regulatory authorities.”

BEREC and the EC have invited operators to inform national regulatory authorities or competent authorities on the measures taken to ensure the necessary transparency for individuals and businesses. Timely received information will enable efficient and effective performance of the monitoring tasks.

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