EU warns geo-blocking of online TV is against antitrust rules, threatens action

EPA/OLIVIER HOSLET

EU Commissioner for Competition, Danish, Margrethe Vestager.

EU warns geo-blocking of online TV is against antitrust rules, threatens action


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Geo-blocking digital content according to the country of consumption may violate EU antitrust rules, if this is the result of agreements between suppliers and distributors, the European Commission said.

Following a year-long investigation into the sector, the European Commission preliminary report showed that geoblocking, where retailers prevent online shoppers in some countries buying cheaper products or services abroad, is widespread, due in part to agreements between retailers and content providers.

On Thursday, the European Commission published its preliminary findings on the e-commerce sector, after it launched an inquiry in May 2015 to identify possible competition concerns in that market. Investigators gathered evidence from nearly 1,800 companies and analysed around 8,000 distribution contracts.

The so-called e-commerce sector inquiry is part of the European Commission’s campaign to overhaul the 28-country bloc’s digital market in a bid to boost growth and catch up with the United States and Asia.

The EU executive also found manufacturers increasingly use selective distribution and contractual sales restrictions, such as price restrictions and curbs on online sales, to better control their products.

“These practices can prevent European consumers from reaping the full benefits of e-commerce in terms of greater choice and lower prices,” Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

The initial findings by the EU antitrust enforcer could lay the groundwork for cases against some retailers. A final report is due in the first quarter of 2017.

EU antitrust scrutiny of the pharmaceutical, energy and financial services industries over the past decade prompted investigations into companies in all three sectors.

While about half of EU consumers shopped online in 2014, only 15 percent of them bought a product from another EU country because of language barriers, different laws as well as anti-competitive behaviour, according to Commission data.

A consultation will run until November 18, the commission said, and it expects to publish its final report in the first quarter of 2017.  (with Reuters, AP)

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