Death by cat videos

Will high traffic break the internet? Google is trying to make sure it doesn't

With people staying home, YouTube is dealing with much more demand than usual. The video website is now limiting video quality to reduce bandwidth usage.

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With everyone staying home during the coronavirus outbreak, YouTube is seeing a lot of traffic, and that's taking up a lot of internet bandwidth. To avoid taking up too much bandwidth, YouTube announced Tuesday it will be limiting video quality worldwide.

According to Bloomberg, this will take place for at least a month, and videos will appear in standard definition. If users choose to, they will be able to change videos to a higher quality. This is an extension of a policy that was already in effect in Europe.

A spokesperson for Google, which owns YouTube, tells Inverse that the company is doing everything it can to prevent too much bandwidth from being taken up.

"We continue to work closely with governments and network operators around the globe to do our part to minimize stress on the system during this unprecedented situation," the spokesperson said. "Last week, we announced that we were temporarily defaulting all videos on YouTube to standard definition in the EU. Given the global nature of this crisis, we will expand that change globally starting today."

The company said it is seeing much more activity during the day than usual. The company doesn't expect us to run out of internet bandwidth anytime soon, but it's taking preventative steps to make sure of that. Considering how large these video files are, the company has a larger responsibility to make sure the internet doesn't crash than most.

YouTube isn't alone in this, as other video platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime are taking similar steps to safeguard the internet. Those companies have reduced their bitrates in Europe and are monitoring the situation in the United States as traffic increases. In Europe, these companies are doing this partially because regulators have requested it, and it doesn't appear the same thing has happened in the United States at this point.

Another concern when it comes to internet bandwidth is gaming, which has also seen an uptick in traffic lately. Verizon reported last week that gaming usage is up 75 percent from normal numbers. With this issue in mind, Sony announced on Tuesday it is slowing down Playstation downloads in Europe to avoid overwhelming the networks. It's likely more video game companies will follow suit.

People have been saying we could soon run out of internet bandwidth for over a decade. Luckily, it seems very unlikely that will happen. Comcast is the largest internet service provider in the United States, and the company told Barrons that it's not seeing any issues.

"We are micro monitoring network usage and watching the load on the network nationally and locally," the spokesperson said. "So far we have seen some shifts in usage patterns toward more daytime usage in areas that have moved to a work-from-home environment, but the overall peaks are still well within our network capability."

It's possible people could start experiencing internet slowdowns at times when there is a ton of internet traffic, but barring any unforeseen events, the idea of the internet crashing entirely is not something we need to be too worried about.

The Inverse analysis

It's good that companies are doing what they can to prevent networks from being overwhelmed because even the internet slowing down now and then would annoy a lot of people, but it seems many are worried about a situation that's simply very unlikely to happen. The internet will not run out of bandwidth unless some outside events cause problems with the infrastructure. It's not going to crash because we're watching too many YouTube videos and streaming Netflix too often. It will crash if you're on PornHub too much, though. Just kidding.

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