MIL OSI – Source: European Union –
Headline: Article – Breaking down barriers: giving consumers equal access to online products
The internet is meant to give you unlimited access to knowledge, yet when you are shopping online, you could be prevented from purchasing a product or service because of where you live. The European Commission has proposed new rules to make an end to the unjustified use of the practice known as geo-blocking as well as ways to create a genuine digital single market in Europe. MEPs debated the plans in plenary on 25 May.
Digital single market
The Commission presented its strategy for the digital single market last year. The Parliament responded by adopting a report in January 2016 with ideas to be used for upcoming legislation.
On 25 May the Commission presented its proposals for improving e-commerce and updating existing audio-visual rules in plenary to MEPs. During the debate Estonian ALDE member Kaja Kallas, one of two MEPs responsible for the Parliament report on the digital single market, said: “[Digital innovation] is all about doing it better, and finding new ways to solve problems, from access to services and goods to environment and mobility. The whole purpose of the digital single market strategy is also about breaking down barriers, including those that are often created by outdated legislation or practices.”
During the plenary debate MEPs also discussed geo-blocking, the practice by some companies to unnecessarily stop consumers from using their on-line service in another country, often without justification, and to redirect traffic to a local store with different prices and products than those in other countries.
The Parliament resolution adopted in January stated geo-blocking consumers’ online access to goods and services on the basis of their IP address, postal address or the country of issue of credit cards was unjustified and therefore it should end.
According to the Commission proposal customers from other member states should enjoy the same access as local customers, if there are no justified limitations. However, the proposal includes exemptions for transport services, retail financial services and audio-visual services. Sellers are also not required to deliver to every EU country.
German S&D member Evelyne Gebhardt, who wrote January’s report with Kallas, said: “In the world we live in today it would be unthinkable for a seller to be relying solely on the member state they live in and we want to protect consumers as well, to root out discrimination regardless of the country one lives in, or the credit card they hold. It’s unacceptable in a single market.”
The proposed e-commerce package also includes rules on parcel-delivery services and on consumer rights’ concerning online products and services.
The Commission’s proposed update of audiovisual rules aims to level the playing field between traditional broadcasters and online media service providers. The plans include more flexible advertising rules and to have the same rules on protecting minors that traditional media have for video-sharing platforms, such as Youtube, and on-demand video services, such as Netflix. The Commission is also in favour of the industry regulating itself when it comes to online platforms on issues such as consumer rights.
“Everyone involved in the market, traditional and on-line service providers, should play by the same rules with no discrimination,” said Andrus Ansip, the Commission Vice-President responsible for the digital single market while presenting the proposals in plenary.
The commissioner also said that although EU companies excel in areas such as the app economy and the collaborative economy, they needed more support: “In order to thrive, all platforms, including European ones, need a legal environment that gives them certainty.”
In 2015 and early 2016 the Commission presented proposals for harmonised rules on your contractual rights when buying digital content, online and distance sales of goods and rules for when you want to watch your on-line film service when abroad. In February 2016 it also published a proposal on radio frequencies in order to boost mobile internet services.
In addition the Commission intends to present proposals on issues such as VAT simplification, cyber security and copyright before the end of the year.