Europe says consumers are losing out because of digital borders
Completing a 'digital single market' could contribute €415bn per year to Europe's economy, create 3.8m jobs and transform public services, according to a new report from the European Parliament.
But objections from so-called 'content creators' in copyright and intellectual property law could scupper any imminent EU plan for such a single digital market, say experts.
Musicians, broadcasters and other content creators object to losing control of their per-territory licensing powers.
Meanwhile, audio visual industries, according to senior industry figures, want "windowing" or "geo-zoning", arguing that they need this to recuperate their costs.
Two weeks ago, the European Commission launched a series of consultations on geo-blocking and copyright. Its Competition Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, says that geo-blocking arrangements, where broadcasters restrict access to movies and shows according to which country the user is in, go against the spirit of the single market.
"I, for one, cannot understand why I can watch my favourite Danish channels on my tablet in Copenhagen, a service I paid for, but I can't when I am in Brussels," Ms Vestager said earlier this year.
"And it's not only me who struggles with digital borders. Geo-blocking prevents consumers from accessing certain websites on the basis of their residence, or credit-card details. It is very difficult to explain this to the people and, at the same time, make the point that we are all residents of the EU and consumers in the same internal market."
Ms Vestager's office is currently probing Sky and six US film studios for broadcasting deals that restrict access to content outside Ireland and the UK.
The Commission believes that such an agreement may be contrary to EU law.
If the Commission finds against geo-blocking, it could stop rights holders such as the English Premier League from making broadcasters block online viewers in other EU countries.
Meanwhile, a 'digital agenda scorecard' from the European Commission shows Ireland finishing eighth out of 28 EU countries in digital accomplishment. The scorecard chose five criteria: internet connectivity, 'human capital', use of internet, integration of digital technology by businesses and digital public services.
Ireland scored highly in the integration of digital technology by businesses and in the area of 'human capital'. However, it scored less well in digital public services and general use of internet.
The report also outlined the difference in broadband access around European regions. It found that less than half of all households in some Romanian, Greek and Bulgarian regions have a broadband connection.
According to Eurostat, 80pc of households in densely populated areas of 28 EU countries had a broadband connection in 2013, compared with 77pc in intermediate areas and 70pc of households in thinly populated areas. Capital regions recorded the highest shares of regular internet users in most EU member states.
"Enhancing digital literacy, digital skills and knowledge is just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic in today's society," said the EU Parliament report. "Those parts of society that do not have computer skills or easy, affordable access to the internet may find themselves increasingly excluded from society in the absence of programmes to help them ."