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News, Telecommunications - Written by Renai LeMay on Friday, May 11, 2012 15:14 - 20 Comments
Geo-block busting ISP not realistic, says Hackett
news Internode managing director Simon Hackett has downplayed the potential for Internode or other Australian ISPs to follow a New Zealand ISP and offer a “Global Mode” that offers greater access to the internet by circumventing geographical restrictions placed on the certain internet services such as Hulu and Netflix.
A long-time issue for Australian Internet users has been that a number of major Internet content companies — such as Amazon, Apple, Hulu, Netflix and others — will only stream content online to customers located in certain jurisdictions, usually the United States. Visitors with an Australian IP address are told they are not able to access the content in their jurisdiction. However, this week an ISP-based solution to the issue surfaced in New Zealand. The country’s National Business Review newspaper has an extensive article on the subject, stating:
“FYX (“Fix”), launched on May 4 as a sub-brand of established ISP Maxnet, holds the tantalising promise that its users will be able to directly access US based-commercial download services such as Hulu and Netflix, and the likes of the BBC’s iPlayer – all of which offer a motherlode of street-legal movies and TV shows for download, but are “geo-blocked” to stop people outside their parent countries accessing them.”
Could such a service be provided by an innovative Australian ISP? That’s the exact question which a Whirlpool user asked iiNet subsidiary Internode this week. The company’s response came quickly from the group’s outspoken managing director Simon Hackett.
“Frankly it’s something I’ve often pondered doing,” Hackett wrote. “To the extent that from time to time we’ve done some internal design exercises to work out what it might look like … we have routers, servers, and rack space in other countries already, so operating one of several possible forms of VPN server and/or NAT based session rewrite and/or application level gateway service (e.g. a Socks proxy etc) in the USA and/or Europe… it all works in theory.”
However, Hackett added, there turned out to be technical barriers to an ISP like Internode offering such a service in practice.
“… it winds up being quite easy for a Netflix or Hulu to identify such proxied sources and block them, based on technical tests as simple as end to end latency (e.g. > 150 milliseconds round trip time for a connection generally implies ‘out of this country’),” the Internode MD wrote. “It can also be done based on administrative tests (“who is the owner of the IP range concerned, and is that a non-USA ISP?”).”
Consequently, he said, customers who had signed up for such a service from Internode might end up being disappointed. “So, now let’s imagine that Internode fielded such a service, and 6 months later, having got a great name for it, and having had people sign up because of it, the service then suddenly stopped working for major content services like Netflix, as they caught up with us doing this … and they would catch up with us precisely because it got popular and hence because it got us noticed.”
“Then, we’d wind up being crucified by, well, by you guys, as examples of customers who have signed up ‘just because of this’. Customers who would then say that we touted ourselves as being the ISP of choice because of this. Those customers would then start demanding exit from their contracts with no penalty because it no longer did what they expected (not withstanding that the underlying service itself would continue to work just fine – it’d just be Netflix etc who had blocked us) and would spend the next two years telling everyone who posts in “Choosing an ISP” not to trust Internode because they did this ‘bait and switch’ thing.”
“Not a place we’d want to knowingly put ourselves (or our customers), really, is it?”
“I don’t know how the NZ ISP concerned is doing it, and whether they’ve found some magic pudding we haven’t thought of,” Hackett added. “But if, in six months, you see them unexpectedly withdrawing the service in the face of customer complaints that Netflix suddenly blocked them… well, put it this way – I wouldn’t personally be all that surprised.” The more realistic way to approach the problem, Hackett said, could be for Australian customers to sign up themselves for commercial VPN services from the US.
I highly encourage readers to check out Simon Hackett’s excellent post in this area. It goes through the technical and commercial arguments for this kind of ISP service in Australia at length, and provides a solid grounding for further discussion. As always, we are grateful to Hackett for this kind of transparency and insight into the situation; it’s a level of transparency we don’t see from any other ISP in Australia.
My own point of view on this is that Hackett is likely right. It would be unseemly and pointless for Internode or any other Australian ISP to get into this kind of ‘arms race’ with commercial content providers in the US. Much better to solve the problem permanently (and on a more legitimate basis) through a traditional avenue: Customer demand. If a company like Netflix receives hundreds of letters demanding they launch in Australia, I’m sure that would change the conversation they have internally around such matters.
Image credit: Netflix
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