Competition law interacts with the online sector in several ways. This includes the European Commission’s Digital Single Market strategy and the related e-commerce sector inquiry. There are few ongoing competition concerns regarding the online sector which include platform bans, geo-blocking, and resale price maintenance (RPM). It has been questioned whether the current competition regulatory framework is good enough for the increasing online world.
In 2015 the European Union (EU) revealed the European Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy (DSM Strategy). It aimed to create a secure and unrestricted digital single market. The DSM Strategy is founded on three core pillars. They are, better access for consumers across the EU, creating the right environment for digital networks to flourish, and maximising the growth of the economy and society. There are several key measures under each pillar.
The DSM Strategy has had some achievements such as abolishing roaming charges in June 2017 and European Union (EU) consumers can now travel across borders and use their home digital subscriptions for music, films, e-books, and games.
The Commission and national competition authorities have taken enforcement action. Concerns were raised about the possible harm caused by dominant companies such as Google and Amazon self-preferencing their own platforms and their use of their own data collected from customers, third-party sellers, and competitors. On 18 July 2018, the Commission imposed a substantial fine of €4.34 billion on Goggle for abusing its dominant position regarding the mobile operating system Android. This is not the only time Google has been fined by the Commission.
The Commission has also taken enforcement action in the United Kingdom (UK). The latest being on the 22 January 2020. A £4.5 million fine issued to guitar retailer Fender for insisting its guitars to be sold at or above a minimum retail price online between 2013 and 2018. This is the largest UK fine so far for RPM.
However, it is important to note that the current transition period for the UK exit from the EU ends on the 31 December 2020, unless extended. It is unclear what relationship the UK will have with EU in the future, ‘deal or no deal’. The effects of EU regulations in the UK may change in the future.
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