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Technology / Hardware

EU MEPs vote to stop geo-blocking in boost for e-commerce and digital innovation

Under the European Union’s plans to adopt a Digital Single Market Strategy, MEPs have voted in favour of a set of resolutions to stop geo-blocking consumers’ online access to goods.

The resolution, voted this Tuesday 20 January, says that geo-blocking consumers’ online access to goods and services on the basis of their IP address, postal address or the country of issue of credit cards is "unjustified and it must stop".

The European Parliament in Strasbourg saw 678 MEPs taking part in the voting, with 551 members of parliament voting in favour of bringing down geo-blocking regulations currently in place. 88 MEPs voted against and 39 abstained from voting.

The EU’s Digital Single Market Strategy is a five-year plan set to run from later this year to 2020, and make digital the "new normal" for the 28 governments which are part of the union.

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During the session in Parliament, MEPs urged that the 16 digital single market initiatives, first announced by the European Commission (EC) in May 2015, "must be tabled without delay".

MEPs want Europe to seize the opportunities opened up by technologies, such as Big Data, cloud computing, IoT and 3D-printing, and to have an innovation-friendly policy towards online platforms.

Industry Committee co-rapporteur Kaja Kallas, said: "Europe has already missed two waves of innovation. First social networks, then the sharing economy. If we do not want to miss the next wave, we have to look to the IoT, Big Data and M2M communication. They can radically transform our economy and our legislation needs to reflect that."

Those voting in favour want proposals by the Commission to end unjustified geo-blocking practices, so as to improve EU consumers’ access to goods and services. MEPs welcomed the proposal on cross-border portability of online content services "as a first step" in this direction,

MEPs urged the union to ensure equivalent and future-proof consumer protection, regardless of whether digital content is purchased online or offline.

They have also told the EC that it needs to find innovative solutions on cross-border parcel delivery to improve services and lower costs, remove barriers to SMEs, start-ups and scale-ups and seize the opportunities based on new ICT technologies.

Members of parliament also want an innovation-friendly policy towards online platforms, including search engines and app stores, that stipulate that facilitates market entry should be maintained.

Lastly, MEPs voted in favour of reviewing the ePrivacy directive to ensure consistency of its provisions with the new EU data protection rules.

Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the EC, said: "I believe that we must make much better use of the great opportunities offered by digital technologies, which know no borders. To do so, we will need to have the courage to break down national silos in telecoms regulation, in copyright and data protection legislation, in the management of radio waves and in the application of competition law.

"Enhancing the use of digital technologies and online services should become a horizontal policy, covering all sectors of the economy and of the public sector."

MEPs have also tapped into conversations around the "sharing economy" to look at the differing national approaches taken so far by EU member states to regulating the internet and this economy, which offers new business models for selling goods and services online, from companies like Uber, eBay or Airbnb.

They have asked the Commission to assess the need to protect consumers in the sharing economy and, where clarification is needed, to ensure the adequacy of consumer-related rules in the digital sphere.

Other topics addressed in the resolution include copyright, telecoms, VAT rules, audiovisual media, e-skills, e-government, and employment rights.

Internal Market Committee co-rapporteur Evelyne Gebhardt, said: "We have ensured that this report on the digitisation of the EU economy, society and public administrations determines legislative and non-legislative action to benefit consumers and to preserve Europe’s competitive social market economies."

In December 2015, the EU Parliament announced cheaper cross-border parcel delivery to boost e-commerce in the EU. Within the union, almost four billion parcels are ordered online and delivered every year.

However, the Commission said that the potential for e-commerce is much greater as only 15% of consumers order online from another country.

It said that one of the biggest obstacles is the high costs of cross-border delivery. The Commission predicts that EU consumers could save over €11 billion each year if they chose from the full range of goods and services available when shopping online.

"Cheaper and more transparent pricing could also encourage more retailers to sell online," the EC said in a statement.

The Commission announced in the Digital Single Market strategy that it will work on improving regulatory oversight in the parcel sector and look into the issue of price transparency, including the prices of small shipments.

 
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