Digital single market details revealed

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THE European Commission have set out their plans to transform the digital market across the continent, by the end of 2016.

They've outlined 16 targets in three areas, which they say will give people better access to services and goods, while creating conditions that will encourage innovation and make it easier and more attractive to invest in digital networks.

As well as seeking to create a single market for internet shoppers, the proposals touch on issues such as cross-border delivery rates, telecoms and copyright rules, and mobile spectrum allocation.

But while they've set the ambitious target of getting the Single Market in place by the end of 2016, those in charge acknowledge that the process could actually take years.

Buying and selling

The Commission say the Digital Single Market could add 415 billion euro (£300 billion) to the European economy each year, and create almost four million jobs.

They say 62% of European companies who would like to sell their goods online cite high cross-border delivery costs as an issue.

At the same time, only 15% of people buying online in the EU are doing so from other countries.

So the Digital Single Market would see the "harmonising" of consumer and contract law across the various member states, with the aim of encouraging businesses to sell cross-border while also giving customers greater confidence should things not work out.

In the same vein, when people do try to use foreign sites - say to book a hotel, or hire a car - they're often redirected by geo-blocking software to their own country's version of an international vendor, which may often charge different prices.

The Commission want to see an end to this and other "anti-competitive measures" preventing customers from getting a good deal, regardless of where in the EU that deal happens to be.

As far as smaller businesses are concerned, this could be a good thing: the Commission say selling cross-border can cost them more than 5,000 euro per country in VAT compliance every year.

Those costs either prevent businesses from offering their goods and services to other nations, or end up being passed on to customers.

Under the proposals, businesses would only have to register and pay once, then be able to sell to 28 countries at a much lower cost.

Take it with you

On a related note, alongside proposed changes to copyright and the regulation of audio-visual content, geo-blocking could become less of a problem to travellers.

At the moment, people can find themselves unable to access digital content they've already bought, or would expect to have access to were they at home.

So, for example anyone wanting to use on demand subscriptions or services while on holiday or business elsewhere in Europe either has to go without or use a proxy service.

But under the Digital Single Market, "the Commission wants to ensure that users who buy films, music or articles at home can also enjoy them while travelling across Europe".

The BBC at least have said they're looking into the possibility of allowing UK iPlayer users to access the service when outside Britain.

Our information

Meanwhile there are plans to review the existing rules on privacy and cybersecurity.

The Commission say that and new Data Protection Regulation should help reassure the 72% of European internet users who are bothered about how their personal data is used.

That could be mixed news for Facebook. As we've reported here, the social network's privacy policy is being investigated by several EU member nations.

Vice-President of Public Policy Richard Allan has said he thinks the simplest way to deal with the issue would be for national regulators to work together - which is just what would happen under the Digital Single Market.

But the social media giant might not be so keen on the fact that the Commission has also announced a fresh inquiry into the role that social media, search engines and app stores have in driving the digital market.


Finally, there are ambitious plans for Europe's mobile services.

The Commission says competition and innovation is being held back by "the slow and incomplete release of spectrum" with regard to 4G and beyond.

They want to see countries stop being so territorial when it comes to allocating spectrum, and work together, saying it'll help speed the rollout of 4G and 5G technology - and increase innovation and investment in future developments.

In fact, this is possibly the most crucial part of the plan: EC vice-president Andrus Ansip says there's no chance of the digital single market succeeding without "deep cooperation in the field of spectrum".

There's a lot to achieve in less than two years - and it's unlikely many of us will see major change for some time.

The team behind the Digital Single Market project aren't pushing for any changes in legislation just yet - they say they'll do that by the end of next year.

So there's a real danger that in the meantime any number of the 28 states affected by the proposals could slow or even derail their progress.

And if that happens, we could see the plans revisited and significantly pared down, as recently happened with EC proposals for mobile roaming and net neutrality.

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