With ISPs and streaming services beset with a higher load thanks to millions of Australians either unemployed, in self-isolation or working from home, services are under a lot of stress right now. So the Communications Minister reportedly has a great idea: send less data.
Late on Friday night, The Guardian reported that Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has written to "all major streaming services" to find ways to deal with the increased data usage in Australia. That included a joint discussion between NBN Co, ISPs, the government and the streaming services on solutions, one of which was suggested as "temporarily dialling back the default very high 'bit rate' they use to transfer data over the networks".
The Guardian and Sydney Morning Herald reported that "there had been no explicit request or direction" for any changes yet.
But it comes after Netflix announced internationally that they would begin lowering bit rates to European customers for 30 days "given the extraordinary challenges raised by the coronavirus", according to a Netflix statement.
"In countries where the spread of the virus is advanced we have seen significant increases in data use and traffic over telecommunications networks," Minister Fletcher said.
“Such temporary measures are already in place in Europe, and we welcome the cooperation of the streaming platforms and their willingness to do their part in maintaining optimal broadband for all Australians.”
The changes to Netflix's bitrate internationally, if implemented here, would have the most impact on users streaming 4K video.
To the surprise of precisely no-one, Australians responded to the news with a mixture of apathy and disappointment:
— Dean (@deanheir) March 20, 2020
I’m just going to fix the headline ok, minor tweak:
Australian government wants Netflix to reduce the bitrate for video streams because our second-rate NBN can’t handle it. https://t.co/aMyH4syaDb
— Belinda Barnet (@manjusrii) March 20, 2020
One wonders: if Australia's world-class, on-time and on-budget national broadband network is having difficulty now, what's going to happen when school holidays start in two weeks? Or if schools close down before then?
Just a thought.