Not entirely sure how I feel about this one, because streaming video is undoubtedly a luxury versus the need to keep businesses running through video conferencing, voice over IP phone calls, and instant messaging.

The problem is that the likes of Netflix, YouTube, Amazon and even Apple have all been asked to reduce the bandwidth or resolution of their streaming services by the European Commission in order to reduce load on Internet Service Providers.

Here in the UK, despite the occasional spike, ISPs have generally stated that they’re able to cope with the extra demand of people streaming video now that social distancing is being put into practice. Yet Netflix has reduced the bitrate for their service to save bandwidth by 25%. The trouble with this is that their service was already very efficient with video compression – and the Premium level gives you the highest quality video (up to Ultra HD). People pay extra for this tier, so is Netflix intended on compensating people for the reduction in bitrate? And especially for those who are also paying extra for top tier ISP performance (G.Fast in particular at 100Mbs or above)?

Netflix and still a high bill

YouTube is another culprit. I’m paying them £11.99 for the Premium service, and expect to get the highest quality video where available (as well as the removal of adverts – I could just use an ad blocker, but there are a number of creators I want to support and going down this route seems the fairest route).

Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV+, Britbox, BBC iPlayer, UK TV, All 4, ITV Player and Channel 5 On Demand only operate on one tier and you can’t really complain if they reduce the resolution or quality. However, Apple TV+ seems to have gone overboard. This has lead me to cancel my free year-long trial. I was rather enjoying Amazing Stories and Mythic Quest: Raven’s Banquet – but otherwise there isn’t much other content that interests me, and they don’t offer any extras at all – a good opportunity for Apple to showcase their own iTunes/Apple Extras. But I won’t let the buggers reduce quality to the point of blocky artefacts. Even if I’m not paying for it (and yet they expect people to pay up to $350 for an iPad Pro keyboard/trackpad?!).

Apple’s blowing us a big fat bowl of raspberries..

And what do you think is going to happen on Tuesday 24th March when Disney+ launches in the UK and other countries in Europe. You bet demand is going to go through the roof that day. Will Disney be joining others in reducing bandwidth or resolution?

And furthermore, what’s happening with the US studios plan on releasing titles that were intended for cinema to be available to rent on streaming services such as iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, etc.? Will those titles – which cost around £15-20 to rent have their bandwidth or resolution restricted? If so, you can bet that piracy is going to outpace the legitimate version – further hurting the film industry.

Super high-res cinema brought down to sub-par resolution and bitrate

(While I’m at it – given that practically everybody in the world is now social distancing and staying at home – what’s the point of separate domestic and international release windows for new releases? Why is there still a pre-order for Star Wars: Rise of Skywalker in the UK when it’s been released early in the US? Why does the country release window matter anymore? We’re all stuck indoors!)

These companies were asked to reduce bandwidth, not ordered to do so. But I expect there would have been consequences if they had not – that seems the way with the European Commission. I wonder if ISPs had ever been asked about the usage and their plans on monitoring and handling traffic accordingly.

Streaming video is a luxury – yes, but for some this is escapism given the solitary demands of social distancing. And what does the European Commission think of video game streaming, video games that communicate with servers for multiplayer games (Fortnite, for example) – the traffic should be fairly negligible (though I use 50Mbs for Nvidia GeForce NOW which is often significantly more than what my streaming habits consume) – but would the European Commission craack down on that too? What other services or protocols does it want to reduce the use of?

What I strongly object to are web sites that load and then autoplay video in a small window (or even if the video is embedded in the body of the page, autoplaying is bad!) alongside 20 billions adverts. Plus the 50 billion third party calls to external services just to make the bloody site work. Now THAT is a waste of bandwidth.

For my work, I just need voice over IP telephony (Zoom), the occasional online conference where we share screens, SSH access, RDP access, VPN access and your usual web based traffic. Face to face video conferencing is not needed for the most part (I can’t remember the last time I had to use it). I paid for a decent internet connection for the likes of streaming – I should be able to use it for it until such times I can’t afford to do so, or the plan I’m using isn’t available any more. I trust my ISP has the ability to manage the traffic accordingly. And if they asked me to reduce my usage, I would (though there would be some discussion about what I’m paying as a consequence of that). But I dislike the EU interfering without first doing some substantial research first.

I had to pop out to the local Sainsbury’s today to stock up on main meals for the coming week. The local bus service is still running, so I hopped on one with my big Sainsbury’s Bag-For-Life and hoped for the best. The car park was completely full, but in terms of people, it wasn’t that much busier than a regular Saturday shop.

ALAS!

Evidence of stockpiling is very evident in the following areas:

  • Toilet paper
  • Soup and tinned goods
  • Biscuits
  • Most cleaning products
  • Non-fresh/long life pasta

(Click on the image, but not text part, to expand pictures below)

However, fresh produce was plentiful, as were a lot of other fresh/refrigerator-based items. So I stocked up on bread, sandwich fillings, some ready meals, some toilet supplies (not toilet paper – thankfully because it’s just me at home, I’ve been buying a 9 pack each week since January and have a fairly decent store of them – for now) and some chocolate.

Checkout was painless. I used the Sainsbury’s Smart Shop app on my phone to avoid having to use/touch Sainsbury’s own scanner – and it meant that I could skip the very long queues (both regular checkout and the self-service checkout). It took about a minute to complete – though I did have to get some help as I managed to procure some bleach for the toilet (and one packet of paracetamol (just in case) – I can’t remember what they check you for these days).

At the time of writing, an Amazon Prime Now delivery has actually been accepted (via Amazon’s warehouse – not that of Morrisons) and is the process of being delivered. I attempted to place a delivery order on Tuesday for Wednesday delivery, but Amazon/Morrison’s cancelled the order 2 minutes after it was due to be delivered. Effectively I’m getting more sandwich fillings and enough soda to last about a week – possibly two.

I do hope Sainsbury’s and the other supermarkets ramp up their home deliveries. This is going to be important if there is an official edict to prevent people from leaving their homes. Otherwise people will still need to leave their house at least once a week to go shopping.