The European Commission has published a roadmap detailing its proposals to address “unjustified” geo-blocking of digital content (other than content protected by licence or copyright) and other related discrimination linked to a consumer’s place of residence or nationality. This publication is the Commission’s next step in pursuing its commitment to make legislative proposals in the first half of 2016 which will address geo-blocking, and follows the closure of the Commission’s consultation on geo-blocking at the end of December 2015.
- The baseline scenario with no new EU policy change introduced: this would mean service providers could continue to deny access to certain services online on the basis of the recipient’s nationality or place of residence.
- Improve the implementation and enforcement of existing legislation: but the Commission does not consider that better enforcement in itself would address the shortcomings of the current framework, as consumers would not have any directly enforceable right against geo-blocking practices, and enforcement as between Member States could remain varied.
- A combination approach: the Roadmap sets out a number of alternative policy approaches, a combination of which could provide a workable solution to the geo-blocking concerns, including: improved transparency, so that traders would have to justify their practices:
- a ban on the denial of access to a website and re-routing based on the consumer’s location;
- a solid and far-reaching prohibition on geo-blocking and other forms of discrimination based on consumer location, except where objective justification can be provided (such as on the grounds of differences in national legislation, contractual requirements or economic justifications); and
- effective enforcement of any bans and/or prohibitions introduced.
The Commission plans to hold workshops to discuss the contents of the Roadmap with a view to improving its knowledge on the more technical issues involved. In addition, it plans actively to engage with stakeholders both online and in person.
Proposals will be welcomed by many
The Commission’s commitment to new proposals which address the geo-blocking issue will be welcomed by many Member States, including the UK government which recently published its response to the Commission’s 2015 consultation on the subject.
In its response, the UK government voiced its strong support for action to tackle unjustified geo-blocking, stating:
“We firmly believe that effective action to tackle unjustified geo-blocking and certain instances of price discrimination will help empower consumers across the whole of the EU; allowing them to make the most of the Single Market and to fully benefit from the best deals and offers online”.
It is not currently known when any decision as to the implementation of one, or indeed a combination, of the proposals can be expected. Many players will wait with interest to see when and in what form the Commission’s next steps will take.
Geo-blocking content protected by copyright or licensing
These proposals do not deal with the geo-blocking of content that is protected by copyright or licensing; this is an area which is being considered separately by the Commission as part of its Pay TV investigation, (see more here). A three-day hearing on the Pay TV case was held in Brussels this week, with the outcome of the case potentially critical to the way in which content is licensed in Europe.
*This article is current as of the date of its publication and does not necessarily reflect the present state of the law or relevant regulation.