EU rules on geo-blocking need to be better enforced and updated to strengthen the digital single market and better respond to consumer expectations.
On Wednesday, MEPs underscored the need to re-assess the EU’s rules on geo-blocking, particularly in light of the accelerated digital transformation and surge in online shopping in recent years.The existing rules allow consumers to shop online and access services across borders without restriction, however MEPs say they must be applied fully and remaining barriers need to be removed.
Improvements to the rules
As the current rules do not apply to specific digital services offering copyrighted content (such as e-books, music, software and online games), MEPs highlight the potential benefits of including those under EU rules if the service has the requisite rights for the relevant territories.
Cross-border delivery, which is not mandatory under the regulation, remains an issue for consumers – affecting 50% of online shopping transactions. MEPs urge the Commission and member states to facilitate consumer access to cross-border parcel delivery services and to support a reduction in cross-border shipping costs.
MEPs also say that online registration and payments methods need to be improved, as in their current form they undermine the “shop like a local” objective of the rules.
In response to limited improvements in the cross-border access to online catalogues of audio-visual content and live sports events, MEPs stress the importance of modernising the audio-visual sector to meet consumer’s expectations in terms of availability, affordability, flexibility and quality of content.
MEPs want more cross-border catalogue availability and cross-border access and findability to sports events through streaming services. They specifically want the European Commission and member states to carefully assess all options to reduce the prevalence of unjust and discriminatory geo-blocking barriers, while also considering the potential impact of this on existing business models and on financing for creative industries.
MEPs argue however that extending the scope of the rules to the audio-visual sector would result in a significant loss of revenue, threaten investment in new content, reduce the cultural diversity of content and decrease distribution channels, and ultimately raise prices for consumers.
More assessment is needed, MEPs say, on the potential impact extending the rules would have on the audio-visual sector. They also advocate for a realistic timeframe so the audio-visual sector can adapt and ensure the preservation of cultural diversity and content quality.
The report was adopted with 376 votes in favour, 111 against and 107 abstentions.
Rapporteur Beata Mazurek (ECR, PL) said: “When shopping online, consumers must be able to take advantage of the best deals and pay with their bank card, just like a local would. We are doubling down on efforts to fight price discrimination and want to make it easier to receive or arrange delivery across borders. It is also time to meet the demands of citizens by making it easier to access movies, series and sporting events in their native language. The Commission should carefully assess the options for updating the current rules and provide the support the audio-visual sector needs.”
On 30 November 2020, the Commission published its first evaluation examining the impact of these rules and exploring the potential extension to include specific digital services offering copyrighted content (such as e-books, music, software and online games), as well as audio-visual and transport services. According to the review clause, the next report should be carried out before 2025.