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EU removes border limits on online streaming services

Starting April 1, EU residents can watch streaming content they have purchased in their home country while travelling in any of the European Union countries.

Katsoja selaa Areenan sisältöä tabletilla
Image: Jyri Kivimäki / Yle

The European Union's Regulation on cross-border portability of online content services in the internal market, also known as the portability regulation, makes it possible for consumers to access their portable online content services when they travel anywhere in the EU, just as they do at home.

The regulation comes into force on Sunday, 1 April 2018 and effectively removes the former geo-blocking functions of online streaming services. The blocking previously disabled access upon exiting your country of residence.

The online services affected include video-on-demand platforms (such as Netflix, HBO Go, Amazon Prime, Mubi and Chili TV), online TV services (such as Viasat's Viaplay, Sky's Now TV and Voyo), music streaming services (such as Spotify, Deezer and Google Music), and game online marketplaces (such as Steam and Origin).

Cross-border bingeing

From today forward, streaming services like Netflix and HBO will be obliged to verify the subscriber's country of residence by checking payment details, internet contracts or the user IP address.

The European Commission hopes portability of content would promote access to legally acquired content, and discourage end-users from using virtual private networks (VPNs) to bypass territorial restrictions created by licensing schemes. Netflix, for example, decided two years ago to prevent VPN users from gaining access to subscriptions, due to their ability to cloak their geographical location.

While the portability regulation is primarily intended for commercial services, providers of free-of-charge online content services can also offer portability to their subscribers. Finland's public broadcaster Yle plans to make its Areena streaming service available across EU borders just as soon as it can create the necessary log-in process to verify the user country of residence.

Coming to terms with the current reality

EU figures show that in 2016, 64 percent of Europeans used the internet to play or download games, images, films or music – mostly through mobile devices. A survey found that half of EU residents between the ages of 15 and 39 thought that accessing the service they subscribe to when travelling in Europe was important.

The possibility to have access to online content services when travelling has become even more important since 15 June 2017, when a ban on mobile roaming charges entered into force in the EU. This earlier regulation allows people who travel periodically to pay domestic prices for mobile internet throughout the union.

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