In May 2015, the European Commission (EC) launched an antitrust inquiry into the e-commerce sector with the aim of gathering “market information to allow the Commission to better understand if and to what extent any barriers erected by companies affect European e-commerce markets”, including geo-blocking. The initial findings of the inquiry have been presented by the EC on 18 March 2016 in the form of a fact sheet.
These findings show that geo-blocking is widespread in the European Union, which is not surprising as such, and it does not necessarily infringe EU competition law: as highlighted in the official EC press release,
“In some cases, geo-blocking appears to be linked to agreements between suppliers and distributors. Such agreements may restrict competition in the Single Market in breach of EU antitrust rules. This however needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
In contrast, if geo-blocking is based on unilateral business decisions by a company not to sell abroad, such behaviour by a non-dominant company falls clearly outside the scope of EU competition law.”
When it comes to online content, 68% of providers reported that they geo-block users in other EU Member states, and 59% of content providers said that they were contractually required by suppliers to geo-block.
The findings of the inquiry will be presented in a preliminary report open for public consultation in mid-2016 while the final report will be published during the first quarter of 2017. The EC press release can be found here.