Many digital services are technically restricted to particular territories, generally for rights reasons. The European Commission is seeking to end geo-blocking within the European Union. It is part of a review to remove obstacles to the creation of a digital single market. It could have major implications for online video services in Europe.
The European Commission describes the internet as “a goldmine of digital opportunities” but says that digital services are often confined to national borders. It is planning to publish a Digital Single Market Strategy in May.
One of the aims is tackle geo-blocking. Many services block access to users outside a particular territory based on their internet address. Although there are ways around this, services are often obliged to use reasonable measures to restrict access based on geographic location because of the way that intellectual property rights are generally licenced by territory.
The European Commission considers that too many Europeans cannot use online services that are available in other EU countries, often without any justification, or they are re-routed to a local store with different prices. It says such discrimination cannot exist in a single market.
The Commission would rather see a single market across member states, which would have profound implications for the way that media owners extract value from programme rights. Some might argue that it would create a larger and more efficient market and unlock greater value, but many rights holders are unlikely to be persuaded of this without legal intervention.
Andrus Ansip, the vice-president for the digital single market, said: “Let us do away with all those fences and walls that block us online. People must be able to freely go across borders online just as they do offline. Innovative businesses must be helped to grow across the EU, not remain locked into their home market. This will be an uphill struggle all the way, but we need an ambitious start. Europe should benefit fully from the digital age: better services, more participation and new jobs”.
Günther Oettinger is commissioner for the digital economy and society. “Europe cannot be at the forefront of the digital revolution with a patchwork of 28 different rules for telecommunications services, copyright, IT security and data protection,” he said. “We need a European market, which allows new business models to flourish, start-ups to grow and the industry to take advantage of the internet of things.”
Other areas of concern are modernisation of copyright law to ensure the right balance between the interests of creators and those of users or consumers and simplification of VAT sales tax arrangements for cross-border business.
The Commission also plans to look at the environment for digital networks and services, including spectrum management, data protection, cloud computing and big data.
It is an ambitious programme to create a digital single market in Europe, although there will be many vested interests that may not be in favour.