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Speech: Consumer rights on a connected continent

European Commission - SPEECH/14/276   02/04/2014

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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Neelie KROES

Vice-President of the European Commission responsible for the Digital Agenda

Consumer rights on a connected continent

European Consumer summit 2014

Brussels, 2 April 2014

To add your comment to this speech, see the social version of the speech here

Today I'd like to talk to you about the online opportunity.

The incredible innovative platform that is the internet.

The amazing rights and freedoms it gives you.

And the new EU rights to help you access it. Wherever, whenever, however.

Online services are taking over everything we do. From shopping to socialising. From connected cars to cloud computing. From transport to tourism.

Giving you more options. More choices. Supporting the whole economy, and strengthening society too.

In every sector those innovations offer openness, competition and choice.

No longer are your choices restricted by the middleman.

You - not your local travel agent – can select your holiday.

You can shop for tailored options from the best of Europe – not just what's on your local high street.

And it's not just about taking old products onto a new platform.

It's also enabling new services, from eHealth to smart cities; crowdfunding to crowdsourcing.

New games, tools, innovations. Not to mention the one million new ideas that come from the vibrant app economy. Products and services you couldn’t have dreamed of before.

That's the consumer boost of digital.

And it's time to fit our consumer rules to the digital age.

That starts with the rules that apply to online content.

Like with a modern copyright system. Giving you the best choice and easy access to your favourite content from anywhere in Europe. Wherever you are and whenever you want it. Legally. A framework good for citizens, good for artists, good for innovation. And we're not there yet.

Europe's consumers and citizens are tired of a backward-looking copyright system that just restricts and limits. I look forward to ambitious, consumer-friendly proposals from my colleague Michel Barnier in June.

And it also means protecting the most vulnerable. Especially children.

EU law already protects your rights when buying online. No confusing terms, no abusive marketing, a guaranteed right to cancel and return.

But there are still unfair practices out there.

Children benefit a lot from the internet – it's a place to explore, play and learn. But they may be exposed to advertising, or aggressive and unfair marketing.

So-called "freemium" apps appear free – but then charge for purchases within the app. Children and parents aren't always aware.

Websites and app stores need should be transparent. Parents also need to take their responsibility. And we are working with industry on issues like age-rating of apps. To make life easier and empower kids and parents.

People care about this issue; it's often in the news. The companies involved need to act. Our legislation may call these unfair commercial practices – the "man on the street" just calls it trickery and exploitation. This is your reputation on the line. EU infringements would be a heavy-handed tool to use.

But really – benefiting consumers is not just about imposing protections.

The best way is simply to give them high quality internet access.

Open, unrestricted, borderless.

Then the innovations will follow. And the consumer boost.

So most of all it's about the rules that underpin the network itself. For access whenever, wherever.

Free of unreasonable surcharges, without unfair practices. Without your operator deciding to limit what you can see.

With every European able and empowered to use this tool to the full.

We are in the age of communication, yet our communications do not yet benefit from the single market boost. For every European and every business trying to travel, trade, or transact, across the EU, the last remaining reminder of our former physical borders is often the phone in their pocket.

Roaming charges are a very visible example. But they are just one example. A truly integrated European communications space would benefit every European consumer and every European citizen. Giving them the right to use telecoms services equally across Europe – exactly what the EU is here to ensure. So they get a rich and competitive choice among Europe's best offers, wherever they are. Without facing barriers at every turn. Without worrying that their roaming bill will cost more than their plane ticket. That is why our proposals on a connected continent propose to bring down those barriers, and heralds the end of roaming.

Second, we can protect consumers in the internet and telecoms market. A decade of liberalisation and open markets brought fierce competition and wide choice. Europeans enjoy multiple tailored offers from multiple suppliers, for their landline, mobile and internet connection. They can buy them separately or as part of a bundle.

But there is still some way to go to ensure an even better consumer deal.

Contracts that are confusing, untransparent, or hard to get out of, with providers obstructing them, or imposing unfair "termination" charges.

Broadband marketing that promises amazing speeds – but that turn out to be a theoretical fiction, never delivered in practice.

Mobile deals that obstruct you when you try and quit, or won't repay you your remaining mobile credit.

These are all barriers to competition and choice. They are all things we want to fix with the rules for a connected continent.

Most of all, I want to safeguard for every European the right to access the full, open, unlimited Internet.

When you buy access to the open internet, that should mean the internet 100%. Your network operator should not be allowed to decide what you can or can't see online. Yet today one in four Europeans finds services blocked or throttled – such as peer-to-peer services, or voice over IP services like Skype.

I want to end that. To ban such online restrictions.

Of course: supporting innovation also means supporting innovative services. And some of those new services may rely on particular network guarantees – like of speed or quality.

Not everyone will want to buy or use such specialised services. But some will do – like businesses using the cloud intensively, or healthcare providers.

No one should block those innovations from emerging. Yet there should be clear safeguards. They shouldn’t be allowed to slow down the internet for everyone else. There should be tough new enforcement powers to ensure that. And they shouldn't be sold as an alternative to internet access. No-one should be forced to take them against their will – and there should be no question of operators blocking or charging for sites, just so they can be rebranded as specialised services.

Those are valuable safeguards which will ensure new services can emerge – but not at the expense of innovation on the open unlimited internet.

The Connected Continent proposal will improve the internet for everyone – more open and more transparent – and consistently across Europe. Because the Internet does and should not know borders.

Once point on which I want to finish. Sound consumer rules are about giving people competition, choice, and confidence. But these do not just mean tilting the balance in favour of consumers.

On the contrary: they are about stimulating demand. Last, year as data roaming charges fell 35%, the roaming data people used more than doubled: up by 103%. And as people feel more confident using their phone while abroad, so we stimulate a new market for apps to use abroad – like for travel and tourism.

They are about helping operators think big – as more consistent rules make it easier to operate across the single market.

And they mean helping the market face the future. For too long business models have looked backwards, to yesterday's services and rip-off charges. Approaches that often leave the consumer short-changed.

Today's technology is making consumers empowered, educated, informed.

With any new technology, trust takes years to build, minutes to shatter.

No-one trying to build a business on this platform can afford to treat the customer as their enemy. My advice to all of them is – don't wait until it's war.

Many telcos now realise this when it comes to roaming. Many are taking the initiative and providing roaming-free deals – because they've seen the business sense. Now I look forward to a dynamic, European market that innovates and invests. Relying not on yesterday's revenue streams – but new tailored, digital services that people will buy and enjoy.

Tomorrow the European Parliament will vote on these issues. For more transparent contracts, for the end of roaming, for guaranteeing the open innovative internet. I hope they can take that step forward for consumer rights in a connected, competitive continent.

Thank you.


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