New rules enabling consumers in the European Union to access online subscription services such as Netflix and Sky Sports while abroad have been agreed.
Most consumers are currently unable to watch movies or football matches when visiting another country due to a practice called “geo-blocking”, which stops users from accessing their subscriptions when outside their country of residence.
However, under an informal agreement reached by the European Parliament and European Council late on Tuesday, such restrictions will be removed, allowing EU citizens to view online content while on holiday or travelling for business.
The European Commission first announced proposals in December 2015 to make it easier for consumers to access online services that provide music, games, films and TV shows while in another country.
The commission said at the time that it wanted to see an end to geo-blocking by bringing in pan-EU subscriptions and introducing a new regulation to enable cross-border “portability” of digital content.
According to the commission, almost half of internet users in the EU listen to music, watch videos and play games online. Many expect to be able to continue doing so while travelling in other member states.
With an end to roaming charges coming into force in mid-June, the numbers of Europeans accessing online subscription services via their mobile devices while abroad is expected to grow sharply.
The new rules will apply only to online fee-based services, although providers of free services also have the option of making them available EU-wide.
The agreed legislation will allow online content service providers to take “reasonable and proportionate measures” to verify the EU country of residence of the subscriber. A list of permitted verification methods includes checks on electronic identification, payment details, public tax information, postal address details or IP address checks.
Service providers will be required to inform customers of the verification methods used and take appropriate security measures to protect their data, the parliament said.
The rules now need to be formally approved by the legal affairs committee, the European Parliament as a whole and the European Council.
The European Consumer Organisation said the agreement was great news for internet users.
“Artificial barriers blocking you from using your online video, music or game subscription contradict the very principle of a single market. Today we are getting one step closer to a digital single market that delivers for consumers,” said the organisation’s director general Monique Goyens.