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Bundesnetzagentur provides assistance to consumers buying online from abroad

Vice President Dr Wilhelm Eschweiler: "Equal rights for local and international customers"

Year of issue 2019
date of issue 2019.07.24

Consumers can now report instances of geo-blocking to the Bundesnetzagentur and find out about their rights.

"The Bundesnetzagentur provides assistance to consumers with the aim of removing barriers to cross-border trade in goods and services," said Dr Wilhelm Eschweiler, Bundesnetzagentur Vice President. "People who are discriminated against by traders using geo-blocking can turn to us."

Geo-blocking in cross-border trade prohibited

"Geo-blocking" refers to restrictions placed on customers trying to access goods or services from traders in other EU countries. Both online and brick-and-mortar businesses can impose various types of geo-blocking, including preventing customers from ordering online from traders in other EU countries and not allowing payment with foreign credit cards. As digital technology spreads, e-commerce is growing in importance, so it is particularly relevant to take action against geo-blocking in this sector.

Discrimination in the purchase of goods or services on the basis of the buyer's nationality or place of residence is not allowed in the EU. The relevant European Regulation bans geo-blocking for cross-border orders. It applies to consumers and, under certain circumstances, also to business clients.

The Bundesnetzagentur's role

The Bundesnetzagentur is responsible for implementing the geo-blocking Regulation. "The agency has acted swiftly to enable consumers to submit complaints about geo-blocking. In the interests of consumers, it has introduced an online form, making the complaints process even simpler," stressed Dr Eschweiler.

There have already been a number of reported cases, most of them relating to orders of clothes, electronic equipment and e-books. Consumers have also experienced difficulties when placing other cross-border orders, for example in the automotive, sports equipment, amusement park and server hosting sectors. It has been possible to resolve all these cases without measures having to be taken, leading to a quick solution in the interest of consumers.

Consumer assistance

The Bundesnetzagentur has provided information for consumers about the provisions of the geo-blocking Regulation and their rights on its website at www.bundesnetzagentur.de/geoblocking. The authority can take action against traders who contravene the Regulation, both by issuing orders and by imposing fines of up to €300,000.

As far as goods are concerned, consumers should be aware that although traders have to enable orders from across the EU, they are not required to deliver outside their delivery area – for example, to the consumer's place of residence. In the Bundesnetzagentur's experience, consumers living in border regions or buying expensive products are often prepared to organise transport of the goods they have purchased in another EU country themselves, either by picking up their order personally or by using the services of a logistics company.

Complaints about geo-blocking can be submitted at www.bundesnetzagentur.de/geoblocking-beschwerde.

Dialogue with traders

As well as helping consumers, the Bundesnetzagentur is committed to an active dialogue with traders with the aim of improving cross-border trade. To this end, it organised a workshop with retail associations in June to talk about initial experiences with the geo-blocking Regulation. The discussion and the tips given to reduce restrictions for consumers were very well received by participants. This was an efficient way of improving understanding of the requirements of the Regulation and its implementation.

Press release (pdf / 36 KB)