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EU Asks Netflix and Others to Limit HD Content to Ease Internet Strain

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  • Internet services are seeing high usage spikes as more and more people are forced inside for coronavirus lockdowns.
  • EU Commissioner Thierry Breton spoke with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings about this issue Wednesday, urging the site to serve only standard definition content rather than HD during peak hours. 
  • While there haven’t been any reports of internet outages or adverse effects yet, the Commission is preparing nonetheless and is also calling on users to be responsible about their data consumption.
  • Tech companies across the board are supporting these measures.

Lockdowns Continue, Internet Usage Surges

The European Union is calling on Netflix and other streaming platforms to help preserve Internet bandwidth as internet use spikes.

Thierry Breton, the European Commissioner for Internal Market and Services, spoke with Netflix CEO Reed Hastings on Wednesday. The pair discussed the best way to handle the high demands, with Breton urging Hastings to serve only standard definition content during heavy-traffic windows.

Breton and Hastings are scheduled to speak again on Thursday, according to CNN

As the coronavirus spreads and places continue to shut down, more and more people are being forced indoors. Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said today that their country’s lockdown must be extended beyond its original end date of April 3. It’s likely that other countries will follow suit.

So between employees who have been laid off, those working remotely, and kids who can’t return to school due to closures, users have increased amounts of time to spend online, with no clear end in sight. 

Breton believes that both the service providers and users consuming data must take measures to not overflood the systems. 

“Streaming platforms, telecom operators and users, we all have a joint responsibility to take steps to ensure the smooth functioning of the internet during the battle against the virus propagation,” Breton said in a statement.  

The Commission said that while there have been spikes in internet usages there haven’t been any reports of outages or adverse effects yet, but they are preparing nonetheless.

Addressing Concerns

Tech companies themselves are revealing their worries about the heightened strain on their services. Netflix, for instance, agreed with Breton’s intentions. 

“Commissioner Breton is right to highlight the importance of ensuring that the internet continues to run smoothly during this critical time,” a Netflix spokesperson told the Financial Times. “We’ve been focused on network efficiency for many years, including providing our open connect service for free to telecommunications companies.”

Lise Fuhr, the director-general of the European Telecommunications Network Operators’ Association, also agreed with the call for standard definition streaming. 

“At this stage, new traffic patterns are being effectively handled by engineers as per standard network operations,” Fuhr said in a statement. “We support the European Commission’s effort to ensure that national governments and national regulators have all the tools they need to keep networks strong across the continent.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told reporters on Wednesday that his social media company is experiencing “big surges” and that voice and video calls across Whatsapp and Messenger are more than double their usual levels.

“Right now, this isn’t a massive outbreak in the majority of countries around the world yet,” Zuckerberg said. “But if it gets there, then we really need to make sure we are on top of this from an infrastructure perspective, to make sure that things don’t melt down.”

Scott Petty, chief technology officer at Vodafone, a multinational telecommunications company with headquarters in London, told the Financial Times that traffic “peak hour” has now stretched from about noon to 9 p.m.

Petty also pointed to new offers like Disney+ and Universal Pictures’ early releases of select movies in the wake of theaters shutting down that are likely to gain popularity. 

The EU, with the aid of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) will set up a reporting mechanism to monitor Internet traffic surges in each EU country. 

These developments come after the Federal Communications Commission of the United States took its own steps to address users’ Internet concerns. Multiple companies, including AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, signed the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected Pledge. This agreement lasts for 60 days from its start date — last Friday. It waives any late fees and will not end services of residential or small business owners who can’t pay their bills as the pandemic continues.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Financial Times) (CNBC

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100Mbps Uploads and Downloads Should Be U.S. Standard, Bipartisan Senator Group Says

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Image via Pixabay
  • On Thursday, a bipartisan group of four U.S. senators sent a letter to the heads of the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture arguing that the definition of broadband internet should be changed.
  • Since 2015, broadband internet has been defined by the FCC as a minimum of 25Mbps download speed and 3Mbps uploads, but the senators urged the agency to define the new minimum as 100Mbps for both download and upload speeds.
  • Currently, the U.S. ranks 11th in average wired internet speeds, at 170Mbps, however, many rural parts of the country are far below the current 25Mbps download standard. 
  • The senators hope a higher standard will force companies to raise speeds for millions of rural Americans.

Some Americans Left Behind

A bipartisan group of several US senators have come out in support of increasing U.S. broadband internet speeds.

When it comes to broadband speeds, the U.S. ranks 11th in the world. The average consumer has download speeds at about 170Mbps, with uploads speeds often about one-third of that.

While 170Mpbs is more than enough for nearly any activity online, rural Americans often struggle to even get 11Mbps. That speed is barely enough to function online today.

The Federal Communications Commission has attempted to rectify this in some ways. In 2015, for instance, when it set a 25Mbps download and 3Mpbs upload speed as the minimum to be labeled “broadband.” Despite this, many Americans still fall short of that due to various exceptions to the rule.

On Thursday, in an attempt to rectify this situation and increase speeds for Americans across the board, Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Joe Manchin (D-WV) sent a letter to the heads of the FCC, U.S. Commerce Department, and the Department of Agriculture urging that a 100Mbps download/upload speed be the new standard to be considered “broadband.”

“We strongly urge you to update federal broadband program speed requirements to reflect current and anticipated 21st century uses,” the four Senators wrote.

“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” they added.

Overlapping Jurisdiction

The letter was sent to the various agencies because, confusingly, they all have different standards of what broadband internet is, which may explain the discrepancy between speeds for rural and urban/suburban Americans.

The Department of Agriculture claims that 10Mpbs down and 1Mpbs up is enough to be broadband internet. To reiterate, that is barely enough to watch a single YouTube video in 1080p resolution (HD) and do any other activity on the internet.

The issue compounds with multiple users in a household as 11Mpbs (used by most rural Americans) can only account for about two YouTube videos at 1080p resolution being watched at a single time before quality is impacted.

While the FCC hasn’t answered a request to comment, it’s possible that it may consider the proposal in the senators’ letter. Back in 2015, the commission’s acting head, Jessica Rosenworcel, had advocated that the benchmark should be 100Mpbs.

While a new standard may not be agreed upon, the FCC has been making efforts to help rural Americans by distributing billions to internet service providers in an attempt to bring gigabit-broadband speeds to remote areas.

Arguably the most successful venture has been SpaceX’s Starlink platform, which has begun beta-testing with some members of the public and is a drastic difference at between 50Mpbs to 150Mpbs, with low latency.

See what others are saying: (Engadget) (The Verge) (Gizmodo)

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Death Toll in Myanmar Surpasses 50 People as Police Continue To Use Live Ammunition

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  • At least 50 people have died across Myanmar since the start of the coup on Feb. 1, with Wednesday being the single largest loss of life to date after 38 were shot by security forces.
  • Despite the danger, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar.
  • The U.N. Security Council is due to meet Friday to discuss how to deal with the situation in Myanmar in response to calls for a solution from nations and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Growing Violence Across Myanmar

Over the weekend, security forces in Myanmar killed 18 anti-coup protesters and wounded at least 30 more. Across the subsequent three days, that number rose considerably.

According to the U.N., at least 38 people were killed on Wednesday alone.; making it the bloodiest day of the coup so far and raising the overall death toll to over 50. Exact number are difficult to find, as the chaos on the ground precludes outlets from confirming accounts of possibly more deaths.

The violence has occurred across the country, with the deaths largely being tied to the use of live ammunition by security forces. The demonstrations, and the response to them, have been widely captured on camera. Some of the most shocking scenes are of police passing a BA-53 (a Burmese Army variant of the HK G3 military rifle) to fire into protesters.

Despite the death, tens of thousands of citizens continue to take to the streets to protest the coup and demand the restoration of democracy in Myanmar. Thursday morning saw thousands in the streets who attended vigils for those slain on Wednesday, an increasingly common ritual for the prior day’s deaths.

Sanctions May Not Work

The United States has tried to get neighboring countries to join it and the European Union in sanctioning the Burmese military, but few Southeast Asian countries wanted to sign on, which gives the Burmese military breathing room as most of its diplomatic and trade relations are with neighboring countries.

At the U.N., Security Council members are due to meet on Friday to discuss calls from countries and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to stop the coup and the escalating crackdowns against protesters. However, it’s unclear what more they can do. Sanctions against specific military leaders are often ineffective, yet sanctions on the country as a whole would affect the everyday people they’re trying to support.

Other options include direct intervention, but Justine Chambers, Associate Director of the Myanmar Research Center at the Australian National University, pushed back against this, telling The New York Times, “Unfortunately I don’t think the brutality caught on camera is going to change much.”

“I think domestic audiences around the world don’t have much of an appetite for stronger action, i.e. intervention, given the current state of the pandemic and associated economic issues.”

While it’s unclear what more the international community can do, it’s quite likely that violence will continue in Myanmar as citizens try to peacefully restore democracy.

See what others are saying: (AP) (Reuters) (New York Times)

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Saudi Arabia To Require Vaccine for Hajj Pilgrims

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  • Saudi Arabia will require all pilgrims participating in the Hajj this year to be vaccinated against COVID-19, according to local media.
  • The Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that all Muslims are required to take at least once in their lifetime if they are physically or financially able to.
  • Many believe the inoculation requirement may help allay suspicions over vaccines within certain Muslim communities.
  • Those suspicions have persisted despite Muslim leaders clarifying that there are no theological problems with taking any of the COVID-19 vaccines available.

COVID-19 Vaccines for Pilgrims

Saudi Arabia’s health ministry will only allow people vaccinated against COVID-19 to attend the Hajj this year, according to local outlet Okaz.

The Hajj is a mandatory pilgrimage to Mecca for all Muslims at least once in their lifetime – assuming they are physically and financially able to. However, requiring a vaccine before taking part in the Hajj isn’t a new thing. In fact, Saudi Arabia already has a list of necessary vaccinations for pilgrims.

For a virus that is among the most virulent in recent history and requiring a COVID-19 vaccine makes sense, especially since the Hajj is among the most densely populated events in the world.

In an effort to combat COVID-19, Saudi Arabia has also introduced restrictions over how many pilgrims can come to Mecca for the first time in modern history.

Requiring the COVID-19 vaccine to partake in the Hajj will likely have the added benefit of allaying fears about COVID-19 vaccines in Muslim communities, which account for nearly 2 billion people in the world. While Muslims overall support vaccinations and their religious leaders openly support vaccination efforts, some do doubt vaccines for either political reasons or religious ones.

Changes in Vaccine Hesitancy

Suspicions have arisen due to recent history, notably after Osama bin Laden was located through a vaccine program that acted as a front for the C.I.A. That incident led to a wider-anti vaccine movement in parts of Pakistan that have seen vaccine clinics burned to the ground.

Others are worried over more religious concerns, such as whether the vaccines are Halal, which is roughly the Muslim version of Kosher. To that, most major vaccines say that they are Halal and contain no animal products, such as Pfizer’s, Moderna’s, and AstraZeneca’s,

While other possibly non-Halal vaccines, such as Sinovac’s, have been given the okay from major Islamic authorities, such as Indonesia’ Ulema Council.

The concerns over whether a vaccine is Halal or not may be mute as most imams and Islamic councils have clarified that such dietary restrictions are trumped by the need to save human lives.

While the Health Ministry’s statement is for 2021, it’s possible that the decision will last beyond that based on the pandemic’s progress.

See what other are saying: (Al Jazeera) (The Hill) (Middle East Eye)

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