“This content is not available in your country”. The European Commission wants to put an end to geoblocking of online content that it calls absurd and old fashioned. It is part of a new "European Digital Single Market" plan.
Part of a digital plan for Europe
The digital landscape in Europe is entangled in a net of assumptions and legislation set up before the Internet existed. Movie, TV, music, and other content rights are still sold on a country-by-country basis, even though information on the internet can flow freely between countries in milliseconds.
- “Consumers and companies in Europe are digitally grounded. They cannot choose or move freely. In the 21st century, this is absurd,” said the EU Commission Vice-President Andrus Ansip at a press conference and added. - “But deep in my heart, I would like to say, I hate geo-blocking. I think this is old fashioned”
The EU Commission strongly opposes the practice called geoblocking that blocks content from video streaming services in all other countries than the home country. People already use tools such Unotelly or Unblock US to bypass geoblocking but the commission believes that this should not be necessary.
The initiative is part of a grander plan that also aims to modernize copyright laws to improve online access to art, culture and entertainment for European citizens. Some exceptions will be allowed, for example if a country has local laws set in place to prohibit gambling.
The broad strokes of the plan were announced on Wednesday where the EU Commission said that it will also simplify cross-border shopping of physical products. Currently, only 7% of businesses ship to other countries but the commission believes that it could easily be 50% if borders were open and shipping costs were lower. The commission will also modernize the VAT system.
An uphill struggle
Andrus Ansip knows that the EU Commission faces an uphill struggle as European ministers are fighting a political battle for industry interests. The ministers recently voted to keep roaming rates in place until 2018, something Ansip called “a joke”.
The same ministers have proposed weaker net neutrality rules to let some companies pay for prioritized traffic.
Several local companies are hoping to keep geoblocking practices in place to avoid having to compete with businesses from other countries. On the other hand, international companies such as Netflix want it abolished. Netflix has on several occasions publicly said that it wants a more global video rights market. In the meantime, Netflix has decided to take matters into its own hands by releasing all of its original TV series in all countries simultaneously. The next step is to do the same for movies that will also skip the movie theatre hold-back period.
The EU Commission and Ansip will announce the concrete details of the "European Digital Single Market" plan on May 6.
- “It will be an uphill struggle. We have to be ambitious, otherwise Europe will wait many more years to enjoy these basic digital freedoms,” said Ansip.