Video on demand services such as Netflix, Hulu and HBO Go, are geoblocked -- that is, people can only subscribe to them if they live in the countries in which they operate. This is, of course, due to distribution rights around TV and movies which are out of step with the current potential of global digital distribution.
For Netflix in particular, many people outside of its regions of availability use VPNs to circumvent the geoblocking and subscribe to the service. It's been reported by The Australian that Netflix was swayed into pushing into the Australian market because of the number of people already using the service via VPN.
(Consumer watchdog Choice even advocates this practice on the basis that geoblocking is unfair and involves setting higher prices for certain regions.)
Now Slingshot, an ISP in New Zealand, is offering a free service called Global Mode, making it easier than ever for its customers to access geoblocked sites and services. Global Mode appears to be a VPN, but set up on the ISP side, rather a user's home PC.
On Slingshot's site, the company had the following to say about Global Mode:
"Ever tried to go to a website, only to be told you can't see it because you live in New Zealand? We think that's bizarre, and it's why we have introduced Global Mode.
"Global Mode is a brilliant service that lets you visit a range sites that are normally blocked to people from New Zealand. And it's free for Slingshot broadband customers."
"We don't want your guests being treated like second-class citizens just because they are staying in New Zealand. Instead, we want them to have the same rich online experiences as they do in their own country. Global Mode lets them access their favourite international sites and services from your home broadband connection."
While the debate rages about the legality of using a VPN in these scenarios it's usually the case that it will violate the terms and conditions of the VOD service at the very least. Suggesting that the user will in fact be a subscriber merely attempting to access their fully legal content while travelling internationally is certainly an intriguing take on the legality of Global Mode.
We've contacted Slingshot requesting comment on its Global Mode service, and we'll update when we hear back.
Updated 2.36pm AEST:
Taryn Hamilton, the general manager of Slingshot has spoken to CNET via email, offering some remarkably candid comments on its Global Mode.
It transpired that Global Mode is a software based solution provided via a third party who built and manage the software. It "allows access to a couple of dozen sites that are normally geoblocked" according to Hamilton.
Global Mode has actually been available for some time, and while it was initially pitched for overseas visitors, we were told that the information in the helpdesk entry linked to above was outdated and needed to be changed:
"We launched Global Mode a year ago and positioned it for overseas visitors. Last week we dropped that pretence, and switched it on for everyone by default," says Hamilton.
"Like Australia, content options in New Zealand are either too limited or too expensive. We know people want to pay for content, this lets them do so. We think it will help combat piracy. In the long run, we'd like all the content providers to sell directly to New Zealanders -- we know that the services would be really popular."