Reasons to subscribe to a VPN service to access online content have been confirmed this week as the EU Commission published an initial report showing that up to 68% of digital content providers in the EU enable some sort of regional lock also known as a geo-block to prevent consumers from outside the intended region gaining access.
EU Commission investigating Digital Single Market
The internet is awash with online content from live streams to recorded video and audio but accessing that can often be a hit and miss affair. Due to rights agreements or other restrictions it has often been the case that TV networks and other content providers enable geographical locks that restrict access to the content only to those within the intended region.
Content providers and even VPN companies themselves were contacted last year by the EU commission en masse in an evidence gathering exercise. In the case of VPN services contact was an attempt to discover the portion of users making use of privacy services to mask their real location to access content from abroad. As would be expected most VPN companies politely declined as they don’t share such subscriber information and they certainly don’t store their users’ access habits.
Digital content companies were more forthcoming and the report released in the past few days confirms that around 68% of digital content providers employ some kind of lock to stop users outside the intended region from accessing the content.
As can be seen in the chart below depending on what type of content was made available also increased the odds it faced a geo-block of some sort.
Chart showing the types of content mostly blocked.
Of that 68%, a further 59% claimed they were bound by contracts to restrict access to the content. By far the most common blocking method was to validate a users’ IP Address and block them when it falls outside the intended country. For VPN users this is excellent news and confirms what has been known for a long time, using a VPN can bypass geo-blocks and allow access to content that would otherwise be unavailable.
Not time to throw away that VPN just yet
Tech-savvy internet users have long been aware of the system of a VPN from companies such as IPVanish that allows you to disguise your online location and appear elsewhere. As many content providers such as BBC iPlayer simply block ranges of IP Addresses associated with certain countries it is a simple process to connect to a VPN server in the country the content is intended for and then stream it as if you were physically in that country itself.
Part of the ethos of the European Union is its single market that allows good to be moved and sold freely throughout member countries. Last year the EU Commission started to investigate how online digital locks affected consumers with a view to see if online restrictions went against its single market policy.
While the EU Commission is looking into whether such geo-blocking falls foul of digital single market rules it isn’t time to rejoice and throw away VPN services just yet. While contractual requirements to block content may be anti-competitive and against the EU vision, the report stated:
In contrast, if geo-blocking is based on unilateral business decisions by a company not to sell abroad, such behaviour by a non-dominant company falls outside the scope of EU competition law.
Which seems likely to sum up that the investigation will make little difference moving forward.
Time to fire up that VPN again.
image by freeimageslive.co.uk – Prawny