Could geo-blocking be deemed anti-competitive?

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Could geo-blocking be deemed anti-competitive?
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Remedies from the IT price inquiry.

A ban on geo-blocking is among several remedies being mulled by the Australian Government as a response to the parliamentary inquiry into IT pricing in Australia.

Apple, Microsoft and Adobe fronted the committee in public hearings late last week. All were asked by committee chair Nick Champion whether in a global digital economy, price disparities between Australia and countries like the United States were justified on geographical grounds.

Geo-blocking is the practice of restricting access or setting prices for a digital product based on a user's IP address. Submissions to the inquiry from CHOICE magazine - among others - recommended that Australia's Attorney General protect those consumers that use virtual private networks and other technology means to circumvent geo-blocking.

ANU College of Law Associate Professor Matthew Rimmer said Australia's Parliamentary investigation could provoke similar inquiries in several other jurisdictions around the globe.

Rimmer said geo-blocking, a major focus of the inquiry to date, would be studied to determine whether the practice would restrain competition or enable price fixing.

Geo-blocking anti-competitve?

The committee's line of questioning over the past year indicates it might even go further to define geo-blocking an anti-competitive measure. 

Evidence given by both the Attorney-General’s Department and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade indicated that geo-blocking was not regarded as a technical protection measure (TPM) the Government was required to protect under the Copyright Act.

Adobe A/NZ managing director Paul Robson said on Friday that any measure to deem geo-blocking as anti-competitive would be met with a substantial reduction of local investment by foreign companies. He backed geo-blocking as a way to ensure Australian users had access to local support and advice.

The issue of geo-blocking is on the agenda of discussions between Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and its Trans-Pacific allies, as revealed by iTnews earlier this week. 

The committee will now report on the 120 submissions and testimony, and is expected to publish a report by June that will examine price differentials, their impacts on Australian users and potential remedies.

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