Internet Speeds Drop Despite Streaming Tweaks

John Lister's picture

Average broadband speeds have dipped during 2020, almost certainly because people spent more time streaming video. It's a reversal of normal trends but could have been a lot worse.

The figures come from, which includes a speed testing feature. It says normally the global average figures measured by such tests will rise by at least 20 percent each year, which is largely because of improved infrastructure.

However, across tests in 114 countries, speeds are actually down 6.31 percent from the beginning of the year. Only two regions (the Baltics and Carribbean) had an average rise, while in Central America the drop was more than 26 percent. The United States was one of the few countries with a rise, with speeds up 3.32 percent. (Source:

Video Traffic Blamed For Slowdown

There's little mystery about the cause. Last year video streaming and downloads made up 60 percent of all Internet traffic. That use has significantly increased with people spending more time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, either on a forced lockdown or "working" from home.

Indeed, Dan Howdle of said his team compared local speed drops with the timing of lockdown measures and found a "high correlation."

Assuming that is indeed the cause, the decrease could have been much greater. In March, companies such as Netflix and YouTube reduced the video quality of their streams to lower the data use. At the time, Netflix estimated the change would reduce data use by 25 percent. (Source:

4K Video Compression Visible

Many users won't have seen any change, but those watching 4K video may have been able to spot the difference. Netflix capped its streams at the lowest speed that would deliver a 4K image though this would involve compression that could be visible in the moving picture.

In some countries, Netflix has already returned to the old speeds. It appears to be doing so on a country-by-country basis after talking to Internet providers to see if overall demand has reduced and freed up more capacity.

What's Your Opinion?

Have you noticed your Internet speed falling this year? Have you watched more streaming video? Are streaming providers acting responsibly by cutting speeds?

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