Update: As of 24 June 2015 Slingshot no longer offers VPN to its customers following legal threats from media giants such as Sky and TVN.
The entertainment industry always acts outraged by internet piracy, while at the same time making it difficult or impossible for legitimate paying customers to access their content. A classic case in point is the practice of restricting access to content based on geographic location, maximizing movie and television studios ‘profits to the detriment of consumers’ interests.
While many internet users resort to piracy in order to watch the latest episodes of their favorite TV shows, or to enjoy the same selection movies and shows that customers in other regions can enjoy legally, others prefer to simply use a VPN service to ‘spoof’ their location and pretend they are watching (or listening in the case of geo-restricted services such as Pandora Radio) from a different region.
VPN is usually supplied by third party providers such as those reviewed in this website, but a New Zealand ISP has made the usual step of taking a more hands-on approach.
Slingshot has offered a VPN service known as ‘Global Mode’ for around a year now, and marketed it as a means for British and US visitors and ex-pats to access a slice of home TV. It was not however much of a secret that Kiwis also used the service in order access services such as Netflix, Hulu Prime, BBC iPlayer, and 4oD.
Last Friday Slingshot’s general manager Taryn Hamilton came clean to the New Zealand Herald, admitting that the service was designed to allow users to watch geo-restricted content, while announcing that it was being opened up to all subscribers for free*,
‘No beating around the bush. This is to watch Netflix, this is to watch BBC iPlayer, this is to watch Hulu, this is to watch Amazon Prime… This is basically going to enable that to happen … any Slingshot customer by default if they type in Netflix, it will work. If they type in Hulu it will work.’
Some of these services require users sign up with a valid US address and / or credit card, but Hamilton made it clear that Slingshot would only supply the VPN end of things,
‘This is just enabling people to consume those services if they want to. Kiwis deserve to watch the same stuff that guys in the States do and at the same price.’
Note that we have instructions on how you can sign up for a US Netflix account from outside the Sates in this article.
The move brings concerns that content providers will take measures to prevent VPN use (as Hulu has done), although Hamilton seemed unconcerned about negative reactions,
‘Netflix is well aware how many people are consuming it from outside of the countries they’re located in but it’s incremental money for them which is incremental money for the [copyright] holders … it’s not as if you’re getting it for free. Someone’s still paying a fair price for a fair service.’
*The offer is open to direct customers of Slingshot only, not of its sub-brands Flip or Orcon.