New Delhi: The telecom industry has stated that it is experiencing pressure on its infrastructure due to high internet consumption during the coronavirus lockdown and wants streaming platforms such as Netflix, Hotstar and Amazon Prime Video to stop showing advertisements, high definition (HD) content, and pop-ups that use more data.
The telecom industry body, the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), has written to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and to 11 content streaming platforms urging them to use data as minimally and efficiently as possible given the extra surge in demand for internet.
The COAI had written to the DoT and the 11 streaming platforms on 21 March after holding a meeting in this regard. The 11 streaming platforms are Amazon Prime Video, YouTube, Hotstar, Zee5, Alt Balaji, Voot, Sony Liv, Hoichoi, Netflix, SunNXT, and Vuclip’s service Viu, which, however, shut down in December 2019.
COAI director general Rajan Mathews told ThePrint that the telecom department is considering the matter, and that telecom secretary Anshu Prakash had called to request more information on data consumption and impact of streaming platforms to make a decision.
Responding to complaints of slowing internet speeds, Mathews said the telecom industry wasn’t doing it intentionally. According to him, in ideal conditions, India’s telecom networks can typically provide 4G internet speed up to 15-20 mbps, with cell towers totalling 5,50,000 across India managing signal or traffic of around 2,500 users per second.
“But since around last Wednesday (18 March), overall mobile data traffic has increased by 20 per cent as compared to mobile traffic for the seven-day period ending 18 March,” Mathews said, adding that the natural consequence of this is slowing internet speeds.
Prakash did not respond to a WhatsApp message ThePrint sent asking for DoT stance on the matter.
Letter calls for cooperation
The COAI letter to the streaming platforms states that with the government “encouraging Work From Home (WFH)” and calling for “critical requirements to be met through digital means”, the directives have placed a “sudden surge” and is “already putting pressure on the network infrastructure of the Telecom Service Providers (TSPs)”.
In addition to this consumption surge for essential usage, the letter says “due to lockdown/ quarantine measures in various parts of the country, a sudden surge in demand for online video streaming is also expected to rise substantially”.
“We believe that during this critical time, it is absolutely essential for the streaming platforms to cooperate with TSPs so as to manage the traffic distribution patterns which are likely to strain the network infrastructure at a time when it is needed for various critical requirements,” it adds
Therefore, the COAI suggests measures to reduce data consumption on streaming platforms like “temporarily moving to SD (Standard Definition) rather than HD (Hi Definition) streaming”.
“Also, during this period, advertisements and pop ups, which usually consume high bandwidth should be removed and if required, may be replaced with public announcements on awareness regarding the (corona)virus,” the letter adds.
Platforms say they’re doing their bit
The online streaming platforms, however, say that they are already doing their bit.
Netflix India refused to comment but on its website the company issued a statement on 21 March, stating it has reduced its data traffic by 25 per cent in Europe and will provide the same reduction to internet service providers suffering with technical issues or where governments have mandated it.
On behalf of Voot, Gourav Rakshit, COO, Viacom18 Digital Ventures, told ThePrint, “We have seen a significant lift in consumption over the past week. Voot has already begun streaming in SD across our user base.”
Tarun Katial, CEO, ZEE5 India, said the company uses technology “to serve quality content even in a slow 3G network area”. “Given the current scenario where the internet consumption is at an all-time high due to COVID-19 and self-isolation, we will continue to serve the best of quality entertainment for audiences across India at the most appropriate and minimal bitrate required,” Katial said.
“Our video streaming is based on Adaptive Bitrate Streaming, which ensures that we are lean in internet consumption,” a Hotstar spokesperson said. “A bulk of our customers are bound by their Hotstar subscription plans and cannot stream videos at high bit-rates.”
The other platforms are yet to respond to ThePrint.