EU to legislate for a Europe-wide digital market without petty restrictions

Posted on by Mike Evans

I am not an unqualified admirer of the European Union but I do applaud the efforts made to create a level playing field in the digital world. Successive limits on cellular roaming charges, leading eventually to a complete future ban, have already made cross-border communications less of a hassle. I have abandoned my old practice of maintaining a wallet-full of SIM cards for countries I frequently visit. Now, with capped charges (currently £3 a day at Vodafone, for instance), it is feasible to use your home SIM in any European country and enjoy voice, text and data at local rates.

The Commission is now turning its attention to restrictive practices in the wider digital market. Why, for instance, should it not be possible to buy goods online from any country within the Union? All too often a query is redirected to the home site simply based on the location of the computer. That should become a thing of the past. If it is cheaper to buy something in Italy, Greece or Germany, then retailers should not make it difficult for us.

A bigger irritant has been the geographical blocking of media across borders. Here in the UK we suffer more than most. British television is routinely blocked and cannot be viewed legally outside the country. So, for instance, access to programming through BBC Player or ITV Player is blocked in other European countries and the only way to get round this ban is to use a proxy server to fool content providers into thinking you are based in the UK. Similarly, although I have a Netflix account, I cannot access programming on my account while outside the UK. Surely, if I am paying a monthly subscription I should be entitled to view the content wherever in Europe I happen to be.

As I said, we are badly done to in the UK and programmers are particularly wedded to routine blocking of content. However, in many European countries local broadcasters do not seem to care. For instance, when spending a few weeks in Greece I cannot legally access British television by satellite but, if I wish, I can view all German terrestrial channels without restriction. 

The content providers will continue to bleat about copyright and contractual obligations but, in a Europe-wide market, they should be overruled. In May the Commission will publish its proposals to create one common digital market. It is about time.