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  1. European Union lawmakers are considering whether current rules aimed at limiting the practice of geoblocking across the bloc should be extended to cover access to streaming audio-visual content. Access to services like Netflix tends to be gated to individual EU Member States, meaning Europeans can be barred from accessing libraries of content offered elsewhere in the region. So if you’re trying to use your Netflix subscription to access the service after moving to another Member State, or want to access inventory offered by Netflix elsewhere in Europe, the answer is typically a big fat no, as we’ve reported before. This undermines the core concept of the EU’s Single Market (and the Digital Single Market — aka the frictionless ecommerce end-goal which rules such as those limiting geoblocking aim to deliver). The Commission is alive to ongoing issues around online access to audio-visual content. In a review of the two-year-old Geo-blocking Regulation published today, it says it will kick off discussions with the audiovisual sector on ways to improve consumer access to this type of copyrighted content across the bloc. It says the planned talks will feed its upcoming Media and Audiovisual Action Plan — which aims to help European market players scale up and reach new audiences. However it’s not committing to any specific actions as yet. So whether the push yields anything more nuanced than another ‘no’ remains to be seen. (The movie industry being a blocker to freer digital flows of content is, after all, not a new story.) “Increased access and circulation of audiovisual content will benefit an increasing demand across-borders, including in border regions and with linguistic minorities,” the Commission suggests in a press release on its review of the current rules. It notes that on average a European consumer only has access to 14% of the films available online in all the Member States as a whole (the EU27), with “significant variations” by country (such as viewers in Greece having access only to 1.3% of the films available online in the EU, vs those in Germany having access to 43.1%). Its review also highlights growing demand (especially for younger age ranges) to access audio-visual content offered in other Member States — noting it almost doubled between 2015 and 2019 (from 5% to 9%). “A 2019 Eurobarometer confirmed that there is interest in gaining access to audio-visual content offered in different Member States,” it adds. For other types of copyrighted content — including music, e-books and videogames — the Commission sounds less convinced of the need for regulatory reform. “The Report concludes that a further extension of the scope would not necessarily bring substantial benefits to consumers in terms of choice of content, as the catalogues offered are rather homogeneous (in many instances beyond 90%) among Member States,” it writes, also flagging “potential impacts” on the price of such services in Member States (which can vary). After 18 months of application of the current Geo-blocking Regulation (in force since December 2018), the Commission review lauds progress in reducing some obstacles — claiming there’s been “a stark reduction in barriers caused by location requirements, from 26.9% down to 14% of approximately 9,000 websites surveyed”. “Such restrictions prevent users from attempting to register to foreign websites due to a postal address in another Member State, and is important because registration is a key stage of the online shopping process,” it notes. “A further decrease in restrictions that users faced when trying to access websites cross-border was reported (e.g. users were denied access or automatically rerouted), the remainder of which was residual (only 0.2% of websites blocking access).” It also credits the regulation with boosting the amount of cross-border delivery purchases, saying the increased access to cross-border websites provided by regulation led to an increase of 1.6% in the EU27 compared to 2015, adding that a third of the surveyed websites offered cross-border delivery. Commenting in a statement, the internal market commissioner, ThierryBreton, said: “This first review of the Geo-blocking Regulation already shows first positive results. We will further monitor its effects and discuss with stakeholders, notably in the context of the Media and Audio-visual Action Plan to ensure the industry can scale up and reach new audiences, and consumers can fully enjoy the diversity of goods and services in the different EU Member States.” Source
  2. EU lawmakers are drawing up a "hit list" of Big Tech companies to target with new regulation, sources told the Financial Times. The list will have up to 20 companies on it, and is likely to include big players such as Facebook and Apple, the sources said. The EU is set to publish proposals for new technology laws in December. Left to right: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. EU lawmakers are writing a "hit list" of Big Tech companies to target with tougher regulation, sources familiar with the matter told the Financial Times. The sources did not say which names are on the list so far, but said it will feature up to 20 large tech companies, and that it is likely to include Silicon Valley behemoths such as Facebook and Apple. Under draft plans for new legislation, the companies named on the list will have to abide by stricter regulations than smaller competitors. The EU is currently working on a new set of technology laws called the Digital Services Act. It is due to set out its first proposals in December. "The immense market power of these platforms is not good for competition," a source familiar with the discussions told the FT. "Big platforms are invasive, they pay little tax and they destroy competition. This is not the internet we wanted," said another. Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for internal markets, told the FT in September that the EU was looking at giving itself sweeping powers to crack down on powerful tech companies, up to and including the ability to break them up. "There is a feeling from end-users of these platforms that they are too big to care," Breton said. This comes as Big Tech companies are facing ever-increasing antitrust scrutiny in the US, with the Department of Justice expected to charge Google with breaking antitrust laws in relation to its dominance of online search later this week. Source
  3. Despite criticism from Apple, EU lawmakers on Thursday voted overwhelmingly in favor for new rules to establish a common charger for all mobile device makers across Europe (via Reuters). Members of the European Parliament voted by 582-40 for a resolution urging the European Commission, which drafts EU laws, to ensure that EU consumers are no longer obliged to buy new chargers with each new device. The resolution said voluntary agreements in the industry had significantly reduced the number of charger types, but had not resulted in one common standard. The Commission should adopt new rules by July, the lawmakers' resolution said, calling for "an urgent need for EU regulatory action to reduce electronic waste, empower consumers to make sustainable choices, and allow them to fully participate in an efficient and well-functioning internal market." The proposed charging ports for portable devices include Micro-USB, USB-C, and the Lightning connector. Thursday's resolution didn't specify what the mobile charging standard should be, but non-Apple mobile devices and increasingly laptops and tablets are charged by USB-C. Even Apple's own 2018 iPad Pro models adopted USB-C wholesale, so the EU is highly unlikely to choose Apple's Lightning connector. Apple last week pushed back against proposals for binding measures to make smartphones, tablets, and other portable devices use a standardized charging port such as USB-C. Responding to the proposals, the company issued the following statement: Apple stands for innovation and deeply cares about the customer experience. We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole. More than 1 billion Apple devices have shipped using a Lightning connector in addition to an entire ecosystem of accessory and device manufacturers who use Lightning to serve our collective customers. Legislation would have a direct negative impact by disrupting the hundreds of millions of active devices and accessories used by our European customers and even more Apple customers worldwide, creating an unprecedented volume of electronic waste and greatly inconveniencing users. We do not believe there is a case for regulation given the industry is already moving to the use of USB Type-C through a connector or cable assembly. This includes Apple’s USB-C power adapter which is compatible with all iPhone and iPad devices. This approach is more affordable and convenient for consumers, enables charging for a wide range of portable electronic products, encourages people to re-use their charger and allows for innovation. Prior to 2009, the Commission considered mandating that all smartphones use only USB Micro-B connectors which would have restricted the advancement to Lightning and USB Type-C. Instead, the Commission established a voluntary, industry standards-based approach that saw the market shift from 30 chargers down to 3, soon to be two — Lightning and USB-C, showing this approach does work. We hope the Commission will continue to seek a solution that does not restrict the industry’s ability to innovate and bring exciting new technology to customers. The European Commission, which acts as the executive for the EU, has been pushing for a common charger for more than a decade. However, the latest resolution makes legislation more likely, with the EU executive having included the common charger standard as one of the set of actions it plans for this year. Update: There has been some confusion regarding the EU's resolution for a common charger standard, and whether the proposed legislation would cover just the charger brick or both the charger and connector cable – and thus the mobile device's port. While the EU hasn't been particularly clear on this point, their recent Impact Assessment Study on Common Chargers of Portable Devices does suggest any regulation should cover the port as well as the connecting cable and charger. The key passage reads: In summary, the most effective approach to addressing the consumer inconvenience that results from the continued existence of different (albeit mostly interoperable) charging solutions would be to pursue option 1 (common connectors) in combination with option 4 (interoperable external power supply). Whether the commission accepts the recommendation of its impact assessment and enshrines it in EU law remains to be seen. Source
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