Students in Sweden. Photo: Sofia Sabel/Image Bank Sweden
Plans for a more 'borderless' internet have been presented by the European Commission, the part of the EU that develops policies to be voted on by European Ministers and MEPs.
The commission suggested a number ways to loosen up the restrictions that often see music, movies and other services blocked when users travel across borders.
For example, Brits living abroad cannot access the BBC iPlayer, which allows people to access licence fee-funded television and radio programmes on demand back in the UK. Content from other commercial television networks such as Channel 4 (4oD) and ITV is also blocked.
Swedish music streaming company Spotify also restricts users from accessing playlists if they spend more than 14 days outside the country where their account is registered.
And while Netflix currently boasts a portfolio of 41 country sites including Sweden, it is still not available in Spain, Italy or most of eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.
The European Commission has announced an ambitious plan to address these issues, making some hopeful for a more open, international internet in the near future.
The commission argues that the move would also boost the EU's economy by €415 billion.
“Europe needs to change to become competitive again,” said EC President Jean-Claude Juncker in a video released by the Commission. “Fragmentation and barriers within our single market are holding digital back.”
“You can drive from Tallinn to Turin without once showing your passport, but you can’t stream your favourite TV shows from home once you get there.”
The European Commission hopes to, among other things, get rid of “unjustified” geoblocking, or when sites block or redirect users based on their location.
Consumers face geoblocking when they try to make purchases on a site based in another EU country, but are often either re-routed to a local site with different pricing, or not allowed to make purchases at all.
The plan also wants to make copyright laws more streamlined across EU countries, to free up access to content across borders.
Some analysts argue the new proposals could lead to strong opposition and legal challenges.
They are likely to pose problems for companies such as online store Amazon, which currently only operates in Germany and the UK.
Plus there are clearly issues with making the BBC iPlayer available across the EU as it is funded by a UK-only license fee rather than through a subscription model.
The trade union association for Swedish film and television producers (Film och TV producenterna) has previously raised concerns about the kind of strategy being pushed by the European Commission.
"If the possibility to negotiate contractual exclusivity and territorial rights is removed or restricted, it will also impact on European distributors' opportunities and incentives to promote and distribute Swedish films," Johan Holmer, the organization's Secretary General, recently told technology site IDG.se.
Meanwhile, some digital rights groups have criticized the plan for not going far enough.
The European Digital Rights (EDRi) advocacy group told The Local that many of the report’s measures were “watered down” from original statements.
“The commission launched a great balloon of hope and all ambition appears to have been sucked out of it,” EDRi executive director Joe McNamee said.
“All in all some measures are not tremendously possible on one hand, but if you consider buying online important and package delivery and geoblocking, then it’s a step in the right direction.”
The group noted that the plan calls for getting rid of geoblocking, but that its broad term of “unjustified” geoblocking “means that everything or nothing could be ultimately proposed by the Commission.”
While the EDRi said they “welcomed” the Commission’s plans to make copyright provisions more similar across countries, it also said that the report did not give “any indication of what this will mean in practice.”