From online shopping to streaming: EU seeks to curb digital barriers

The internet has changed the way we shop, how we watch films and much more. The European Commission thinks it is time to adapt EU rules to this digital change.

The European Union's executive on Wednesday unveiled a series of proposals and plans to achieve this. It is hoping to eventually create an EU digital single market, removing the barriers that hamper customers and businesses from reaching beyond their national borders.

Here are some highlights from the commission package.

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GEO-BLOCKING: This is a phenomenon that almost every internet user has encountered in some form: a German customer cannot place an order with a British online retailer or the rental car in Italy turns out to be pricier for Danish than Romanian travellers.

The commission wants to prohibit this type of unequal treatment based on nationality or place of residence. Geo-blocking would for instance be forbidden for the sale of products that are not available for delivery; if an online retailer offers domestic customers a pick-up option, it has to also be available for shoppers from other EU countries.

Other practices such as automatically re-routing customers to their national website and limiting payment methods based on the country where a credit card or bank account is based would also be limited.

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PARCEL DELIVERY: The commission believes that sending parcels from one EU country to another is too expensive in many member states when compared to the prices of domestic mailings - on average three to five times more expensive. In one country, which the commission declined to name, delivery to other EU countries cost as much as 22 times more.

This is proving a major hurdle to developing e-commerce in the EU. The commission wants to make the prices for cross-border parcel delivery more transparent and thus fuel more competition in the sector, for instance by offering price-comparison tools.

The commission says it is not interesting in regulating parcel delivery prices, but that it is ready to take further measures in 2019 if the situation has not improved.

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STREAMING SERVICES: The commission wants European films and television series to be offered more consistently on online streaming services provided by the likes of Netflix, Amazon or iTunes. They should be required to offer at least 20 per cent of European content in each EU country where they operate, the Brussels institution says.

Netflix and iTunes already meet this goal when it comes to European films. There are still significant variations from country to country, however.

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TELEVISION ADVERTISING: The commission believes that television stations should have more flexibility when it comes to advertising airtime, as consumers get more and more options to bypass commercials while watching their favourite films or series online.

Television stations will still be required to cap advertising at 20 per cent of their airtime, but will to be allowed to spread their advertising blocks in a more flexible way over the day.

Broadcasters and on-demand providers will also have greater flexibility in using product placements and sponsorship, as long as they inform viewers about it.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49
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