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Could iPlayer access be extended across EU?

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Could iPlayer access be extended across EU?
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16:11 CEST+02:00
The European Commission presented a plan for making the internet and digital content more ‘border-free' on Wednesday, suggesting ways to loosen up restrictions that often see music, movies and other services blocked when users travel across countries. But could such a plan succeed?

Expats and world-travellers alike are often dogged by this problem on a regular basis as country restrictions block them from listening to a favourite song or watching a show from back home online.

Brits complain that they can’t access the BBC iPlayer outside the UK, even though they may still be contributing toward the broadcaster’s public support. 

And while Netflix currently boasts a portfolio of 41 country sites, it is still not available in Spain, Italy or most of eastern Europe, Asia and Africa.

An ambitious plan presented by a European Commission group on Wednesday hopes to address these issues, making some hopeful for a more open, international internet. It also promises to bring in an additional €415 billion to the European GDP.

"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."

But does this mean sites like Netflix could suddenly open its doors to all, including Spain?

Not so fast, say some analysts.

“Unjustified” blocking

The Digital Single Market plan unveiled on Wednesday proposes a range of sweeping and ambitious measures. The plan hopes to, among other things, get rid of “unjustified” geoblocking, or when sites block or redirect users based on their location.

Consumers face geoblocking, for example, 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.

Another measure is to make copyright laws more streamlined across EU countries, to free up access to content across borders. The plan also seeks to address high charges for package deliveries across borders between countries that are very close.

Some digital rights groups criticized the plan for not doing enough.

The European Digital Rights (EDRi) advocacy group told The Local that many of the report’s measures were "watered down" from original statements.

"Sadly the Commission is not displaying as much ambition as it promised," EDRi executive director Joe McNamee told The Local.

"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."

What could this mean for Spain?

The Local asked Facebook users what they would think about an internet without country restrictions. Some complained about online purchases, while others mentioned American TV shows that were blocked in their countries.

One user currently living in Malaga complained that they couldn't view the American political comedy show, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Many have long awaited the launch of Netflix in Spain, which was overlooked in the last expansion to countries like Germany and France last year.

But the process of getting the digital legislation passed at the European Union level and thus allowing Netflix to more easily enter Spain could take three years or more, said McNamee.

"It’s entirely possible that Netflix will achieve that task before then," he told The Local.

Netflix itself has said it doesn’t plan to wait around for the commission to act. CEO Reed Hastings told an audience at a Media Conventions conference on Tuesday that the company will solve the issue of international demand "commercially".

"We can’t wait for the commission, they may or may not pass rules. … We are going to try and solve the problem commercially," he said.

For Brits living in Spain, the BBC offered some glimmer of hope following the release the report. The broadcaster said it would "look into the possibility" of easing restrictions on the online iPlayer feature, which British citizens living abroad currently cannot access.

"We note the Commission's interest in making services more portable to UK users while temporarily travelling in Europe, and will begin work to look at the technical and legislative implications," said a spokesman in a statement.

 
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