Europe agrees to end geoblocks on travelers’ digital subscriptions by 2018

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European consumers will be able to make use of digital subscriptions as they travel around the 28-Member State bloc in future, after EU negotiators agreed a deal on service portability.

The agreement is part of the European Commission’s Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy, which seeks to break down barriers to ecommerce across the region.

The new portability rules will change how EU consumers traveling within the region can consume digital content such as online subscriptions to films, sports events, e-books, video games and music services — enabling them to make full use of their digital subscriptions when they are traveling in the EU, rather than being geoblocked from accessing online services they pay for in their home country.

It’s not clear whether any ‘fair usage’ restrictions apply with the new rules, i.e. if there’s a limit on the number of ‘roaming days’ a Netflix subscriber, for example, would be able to make full use of their subscription when away from home. We’ve asked for more details and will update this article with any response.

Update: A Commission spokeswoman confirms there is no fair use policy in portability. “There is no need for one because, while traveling in the EU, consumers will enjoy the same online content services which they have paid for as if they were at home,” she said.

However the service provider will have to verify the subscriber’s country of residence. “This will be done at the conclusion and renewal of the contract,” she added.

In a press release announcing today’s agreement, the EC writes:

The future regulation will enable consumers to access their online content services when they travel in the EU the same way they access them at home. For instance, when a French consumer subscribes to Canal+ film and series online services, the user will be able to access films and series available in France when he or she goes on holidays to Croatia or for a business trip to Denmark.

The online content service providers like Netflix, MyTF1 or Spotify will verify the subscriber’s country of residence by using means such as payment details, the existence of an internet contract or by checking the IP address. All providers who offer paid online content services will have to follow the new rules. The services provided without payment (such as the online services of public TV or radio broadcasters) will have the possibility to decide to also provide portability to their subscribers.

In terms of how service providers will verify a user’s country of residence, methods could include information derived from payment details or a contract for Internet or telephone connection, IP checks or a subscriber’s “declaration” about their address, according to the EC spokeswoman.

“The service provider will be able to apply up to two means of verification from the list included in the Regulation,” she noted, adding: “Service providers will be able to repeat the verification only if the service provider has reasonable doubts about the subscriber’s Member State of residence. This for example can occur when the consumer’s data provided to the service provider, such as payment details, change.”

The new rules are set to come into force across the region by the beginning of 2018, though the regulation still needs to be formally confirmed by the Council of the EU and the European Parliament.

It’s the first agreement reached by negotiators of the European Parliament, the Member States and the European Commission related to the latter’s proposal to modernise EU copyright rules.

A wider reform of the EU copyright framework, remains in train — though a draft proposal published last September was criticized as regressive and a missed opportunity for proper modernization of the rules.

Another long sought for component of Commission’s DSM strategy — an end to mobile roaming fees — was finally agreed earlier this month, and is due to come into effect across Europe in mid June.