Reed Hastings, co-founder and chief executive of Netflix. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

You know how travel can be sometimes. You get up too early, walk too many miles to too many vaguely identical historical churches, all while spending too much and talking too little with the locals.

After all that, you might find yourself eager to curl up and stream the television equivalent of comfort food.

But you couldn’t. Traditionally, if you subscribe to a service such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video or Apple Music, you can use it only in your home country. Those companies tracked your IP address, so they knew when you were out of town. And some, such as Netflix, made it difficult to use a VPN, which makes it look like you’re in one country even when you’re signed in from somewhere else. This matters, in part, because most streaming sites offer different content depending on what country you’re in. These policies existed because of licensing agreements with content producers, which were country-specific.

But they’re about to change, at least for residents of the European Union. Under a new law, people in the E.U. will be able to access their online subscriptions no matter where they are in the region. So if you bought your Netflix subscription in France, you will have access to all the same movies and television shows, even if you’re studying abroad in Germany.

The rule, which still needs final sign-off, will come into effect in early 2018. Andrus Ansip, European Commissioner for digital single market, hailed it as a breakthrough. He told reporters, “People who have subscribed to their favorite series, music and sports events at home will be able to enjoy them when they travel in Europe. This is a new important step in breaking down barriers.”

Last year, the European Union struck a similar blow when it abolished roaming charges for using mobile phones while abroad. The new measure could potentially impact a large number of people. One poll found that about half of all Europeans use a streaming service. Only paid music- and video-streaming services will be affected, which means that YouTube will still be able to use IP-based geo-blocking on its content.

Americans won’t benefit from the arrangement — if they go abroad, they’ll still need to use a VPN. But the deal points to a brighter, attainable future for these customers, one with terms that serve the user, not the content producers.



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