One of the biggest obstacles in the modern digital era will soon be defeated, at least in the European Union. At least that was the original intention of authors of new Regulation 2018/302, on addressing unjustified geo-blocking and other forms of discrimination based on customers' nationality, place of residence or place of establishment within the internal market and amending Regulations (EC) No 2006/2004 and (EU) 2017/2394 and Directive 2009/22/EC1 (the "Regulation"), which has been in March finally finalized from its original proposal form2.
In short, geo-blocking is a technological protection restricting access to the content on internet based on the geographical location of the user. Such location is determined using certain geolocation methods, such as the IP address check. The user is then approved or denied of the content, mostly movies and clips, usually for licensing or copyright reasons. Sometimes geo-blocking causes automatic redirection to other language version of the site, offering just part of the original content sometimes even in differe
Although there were always options to circumvent the internet traffic and use anonymizer services or the VPN (virtual private network3) such option could not have always been used and more importantly was not a convenient solution for an everyday use.
As the European Union and its idea of one single market should be the area without any internal frontiers, creating a barrier for the free movement of services, the geo-blocking is undeniably perceived as a threat to truly barrier-less environment. Therefore, as clarified in the new Regulation, it shall contribute to preventing unjustified geo-blocking and other forms of discrimination based on the customer´s nationality, place of residence or place of establishment.
Most important conditions imposed by the Regulation therefore are:
- prohibition to use the technological measures to block or limit a customer's access to the trader's online interface for reasons related to the customer's nationality, place of residence or place of establishment;
- prohibition to redirect the customer to a version of the trader's online interface that is different from the online interface to which the customer initially sought access, by virtue of its layout, use of language or other characteristics that make it specific to customers with a particular nationality, place of residence or place of establishment;
- prohibition to apply different general conditions of access to goods or services, for reasons related to a customer's nationality, place of residence or place of establishment; and
- prohibition to, within the range of means of payment accepted by the trader, apply, for reasons related to a customer's nationality, place of residence or place of establishment, the location of the payment account, the place of establishment of the payment service provider or the place of issue of the payment instrument within the Union, different conditions for a payment transaction.
All abovementioned conditions have their specific details and exceptions stated in the full wording of the Regulation. Other supplemental provisions include the duty to designate a body responsible for adequate enforcement of the Regulation and to designate a body responsible to provide a Practical assistance to consumers in the case of a dispute between a consumer and a trader, arising from the application of the Regulation.
The whole Regulation, directly applicable from 3rd December 2018, shall be the first milestone to truly "international" internet services, without any unnecessary discrimination and different conditions for customers from various countries. That is a good news, because after all discussions in recent months regarding possible restrictions of net-neutrality (with possibly grim outcomes), this is a change which will greatly benefit customers