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New Zealand ISP’s ‘global mode’ will help users access foreign streaming services

By | Published on Wednesday 9 July 2014


An internet service provider in New Zealand is helping its customers circumvent geo-blocks installed on popular online content services, meaning that users will be able to access sites and catalogues currently restricted to US and UK consumers, including the American version of Amazon Prime with its streaming music set-up.

Geo-blocks restrict access to websites and other online services to consumers in specific territories based on the IP address of the user. There are various reasons website operators might instigate geo-blocks, but a common one is that they have licensed content from third parties, but only have the rights to distribute that content in specific territories. It’s how and why the music available on services like Spotify varies from country to country, and even more so when it comes to film and TV-on-demand platforms.

It’s common for smaller online content services to actually operate beyond their home territories, even though often their licenses don’t technically allow them to. But as soon as they gain momentum, content owners normally enforce territory restrictions, meaning the geo-blocks are put in place, and those not in the countries where the service is licensed to operate are blocked out. Unless they install the software that fools the site into thinking they are accessing the internet from a different country.

Some are critical of the content industries for licensing on a country-by-country basis, it being a system that came into being because pre-web licensees, ie TV and radio, rarely broadcast in any serious way beyond their home territories. Online, of course, every service has the potential to be global, but content owners aren’t always able or willing to provide platforms with worldwide rights. Within the European Union some have argued this breaches internal-market rules.

Circumventing the geo-blocks isn’t difficult but needs a little know-how. But for a while now New Zealand ISP Slingshot has offered a ‘global mode’ to customers who claim that they have someone staying with them from another country who needs to access content services back home. And that, it seems, was a pilot, with the global mode now being rolled out to all customers. The service means that Slingshot customers will appear to come from the UK or US when they need to, but will appear as New Zealand web-users on local sites.

The four services that Slingshot is guaranteeing global mode will open up to New Zealand web-users are US-based Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime, plus the BBC’s iPlayer. Though the facility may also enable use of other content platforms, including some of the streaming music services not currently available in the country.

Of course, those content platforms that are subscription-based may have limitations in place beyond geo-blocking, in that payments may need to be made with a credit card registered in the country the user is pretending to be from. But there’ll be no such problems with free-to-access platforms like the iPlayer, or those where users can register with the New Zealand version of the service, but circumvent the geo-block to access the extra catalogue or services available to US customers.

Slingshot’s global mode is likely to be controversial in some quarters, with New Zealand broadcasters who have licensed the rights to US films and programmes for their TV channels or their own online services likely to complain loudest. It remains to be seen if anything can be done to force Slingshot to rethink – The Register notes that another net firm in the country, FYX, tried something similar in 2012 and parked it within days.

Though according to ComputerWorld NZ, the General Manager of Slingshot, Taryn Hamilton, has argued that New Zealanders who want access to content not currently officially available online in the country are likely streaming or downloading it from unauthorised sources, so surely it’s better to let them subscribe to legit American platforms rather than nab that content for free? Which is an argument that may or may not work.