If aspects of the Regulation sound not dissimilar to language used when prohibiting anti-competitive behaviour, that’s because there is some cross over: restrictions on passive sales (where a distributor is prevented by his supplier from selling to a customer outside his allocated territory where approached directly by the customer) are not permitted under the Regulation or under EU competition rules. However, the Regulation does not affect restrictions on active sales outside a distributor's territory, to the extent that these are permitted under EU competition rules, as set out in the EU Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation.
The Regulation leaves enforcement and sanctions up to individual member states, giving them the freedom to designate enforcing authorities and to fix penalties for non-compliance. In the UK, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has been designated as responsible for enforcement of the Regulation. Failure by a trader to comply may be enforced by the CMA if the breach harms the collective interests of consumers. In addition, customers are at liberty to bring civil claims against traders for loss or damage suffered in the event of breach of the prohibitions set out earlier in this briefing.
This is not the end of the story for traders: wronged customers also have the option of enforcing the Regulation via the authorities of the member state in which they are based. It is this which could cause practical difficulty for some traders (e.g. having to defend proceedings in other member states and in accordance with their local laws).
Will Brexit make a difference?
If the Withdrawal Agreement is approved, then probably not, at least for the medium term, as UK traders will have to comply with the legislation up until the end of the transition period. The position after the transition period is less clear. Whether the Regulation will continue to take effect will depend on the outcome of negotiations between the UK and the EU.
If the Withdrawal Agreement isn't approved, and there is no deal, the Regulation will, according to a technical notice released in October by the UK Government, fall away for the UK, so that if you are a UK trader with effect from B-(rexit Day), you could prevent EU nationals from accessing your UK website, and UK nationals from accessing your EU facing websites. However, businesses which trade in Europe will still need to comply as between customers from different member states within the EU.
Will the Regulation make much difference?
Only time will tell whether customers really take advantage of the changes brought about by the Regulation, and whether they are prepared to pick up from a different territory, in order to access the goods they want, where they are unavailable in their own country. Much will of course depend on the nature of the underlying goods or services and their widespread availability. Potentially more advantageous, would be the ability to access online material, however this has been somewhat eroded by the carve out of copyright protected material (such as proprietary software), from the Regulation's prohibition on discriminating for the purpose of access. To a certain extent it is a moot point, as traders who are caught will have to do the hard work to make the necessary adjustments to their processes to ensure that they fall on the right side of the Regulation irrespective of whether or not customers decide to take advantage of the new landscape. The European Commission has released a detailed set of questions and answers for businesses on the Geo-blocking Regulation and how to implement it, which can be found at: https://ec.europa.eu/digital-singlemarket/en/news/geo-blocking-regulationquestions-and-answers.