Bridging the digital divide

Thousands of jobs are in the pipeline if the European Union succeeds in carry out its promise of free access to online content and services throughout Europe. But it is not going to be a walk in the park. There are many powerful opponents.

By Anna Stribolt Rigas

Does this content is not available in your location” notification look familiar?

Then you’re not the only one. 95 percent of all Europeans have been prevented from visiting a website from another EU country which according to Mr Heikki Raappana, policy advisor at the European Parliament highlights why removing geo-blocking – which is the practice of restricting access to content based upon the user’s geographical location – is on the top of Jean Claude Junker, the President of the European Commission, wish list.

“Free movement is one of the pillars of European integration. But when it comes to equally acces on the internet for all Europeans we are hopelessly outdated,” Raappana stated.

Geo-blocking on the table

The European Commission has just kicked of its initiative called the Digital Single Marked inviting citizens, retailers and right holders to discuss the possibilities for a single regulatory framework for the internet across Europe to make creative content, whether film, music or television or shopping online, equally available across the EU.

”The internet and digital services are changing our world. How we work, where we live, how we buy and consume content. And in order to become competitive again we need to make the EU’s single market fit for the digital age – tearing down regulatory walls and moving from 28 national markets to a single one,” says Mr Raappana.

According to figures from The European Commission, a new digital strategy for the digital single market could contribute with €415 billion per year to the European Union.

“ This could  boost jobs, competition and investment. It can expand markets and foster better services at better prices and it can create opportunities for new start-ups and allow existing companies to grow and profit within a market of over 500 million people,” said Mr Heikki Raappana.

Fighting the big ones

According to statistics from Eurostat only 7% of EU small- and medium-sized businesses sell cross-border and 15 percent of EU consumers reach beyond their borders to shop online in another EU country. “Because they(the EU citizens) face different price tags when they want to buy things online just because they are from different countries,” explained the policy advisor.

But Europe’s plans to erase national barriers to online commerce have been greeted by scepticism by the film and television industries, both in Europe and in the U.S. explained European Parliament, Member Christel Schaldemose from the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats.

Copyright concerns

”Copyright is the focus of complaints for the film and TV industries, with critics balking that the Commission’s proposals to ban geo-blocking will undermine territorial exclusivity which they say is key to financing independent cinema, both European and American,” she says and addresses the price tag as a key concern for the creative industry.

“The problem is, imagine that there is a movie that is coming to distribution in the whole EU at the same time. How will the price tag set? Will it be set on the Eastern or the Western European price level”? Says MEP Christel Schaldemose and urges the creative industry to take part in the discussions in order to make the best possible framework for the new Digital single market.

”The question is not if we will get rid of Geo-blocking – but when. It doesn’t make sense to have 28 different national markets when almost all Europeans have access to the Internet. But off course is has to be done in a way which doesn’t undermine our workforce and the plurality of our culture and language,” she stated.

The Work Programme for the New Digital Single Market sets out the Commission’s plans for the 12 months ahead and is expected to be implemented within the next 3 years.


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