Sunday 25 September 2016

EU moves to curb Google, roaming and TV-blocking

Published 07/05/2015 | 02:30

Gunther Oettinger holds a press conference on the Digital Single Market at the European Commission in Brussels, on May 6, 2015. Brussels formally opened an anti-trust inquiry into Europes's online shopping marketplace amid concerns about how websites such
Gunther Oettinger holds a press conference on the Digital Single Market at the European Commission in Brussels, on May 6, 2015. Brussels formally opened an anti-trust inquiry into Europes's online shopping marketplace amid concerns about how websites such

The European Commission has outlined plans to outlaw mobile roaming and restrict geo-controls on accessing music, movies and sports across Europe.

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The institution, which initiates law across the European Union, has also given another stark warning to Google that it is likely to take action against the search giant's monopoly position in Europe.

"We can ensure that European citizens will soon be able to use their mobile phones across Europe without having to pay roaming charges," said Jean Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, in the institution's latest policy document on implementing a single digital market.

"We also need to have the courage to break down national silos in telecoms regulation, in copyright and data protection legislation. We can ensure that consumers can access services, music, movies and sports events on their electronic devices wherever they are in Europe and regardless of borders.

"We can create a fair level playing field where all companies offering their goods or services in the European Union are subject to the same data protection and consumer rules, regardless of where their server is based."

The policy initiative specifically targets geo-blocking, a practice used to apply different prices to consumers in different countries for the same product or services, or to prevent access to services such as music or movies from certain EU countries.

"By limiting consumer opportunities and choice, geo-blocking is a significant cause of consumer dissatisfaction and of fragmentation of the Internal Market," said the policy document. "The Commission will make legislative proposals in the first half of 2016 to end unjustified geo-blocking."

However, this may not mean the abolition of film companies' power to block content from being accessed in some EU countries.

The Commission's vice president for the single market, Andrus Ansip, said that "territoriality" will still be a legally viable concept in the the reformed EU. "We do not want to change the system or principle of territoriality," he said. "We are in favour of the principle of territoriality. But I am not accepting absolute territorial exclusivity.

"I would like to enjoy masterpieces created by creators but they are not accepting my money. In particular, the Commission wants to ensure that users who buy films, music or articles at home can also enjoy them while travelling across Europe."

If carried through, this would mean an Irish Netflix subscriber could still use the service on a tablet or phone even in another EU country where the service is not yet legally available.

Google is to come under renewed pressure from the Commission with the institution, without specifically naming the search giant, laying out its concerns over Google's "growing market power", "lack of transparency", unfair "bargaining power" and "promotion of their own services to the disadvantage of competitors".

Last month, the Commission opened a formal investigation into Google over its monopoly position in the search engine market in Europe. The search giant, which employs almost 5,000 people in Ireland, has embarked on a series of placatory measures, including a €150m "partnership fund" for European newspapers.

The Commission expects to release details of specific measures relating to its new single digital market policy over the next 18 months.

It is also expected to address concerns over taxation imbalances, including tax on digital goods and VAT.

"As regards direct taxation, the Commission will shortly present an action plan on a renewed approach for corporate taxation in the single market, under which profits should be taxed where the value is generated, including in the digital economy," said the policy document. "The Commission will also explore how to address the tax treatment of certain e-services, such as digital books and online publications, in the context of the general VAT reform."

An "ambitious" overhaul of the telecoms regulatory framework is also promised, including new rules that will bring services such as Whatsapp into a regulatory framework. Broadband regulations will also be revisited.

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