The BBC is known throughout the world for its high-quality programming, which is made available for free to UK residents for 30 days after it broadcast on its online catch-up service, BBC iPlayer.
Any UK resident who wishes to watch live TV (on any channel, not just BBC) is legally required to pay an annual licence fee of £145 GBP (approx. $225 USD) for a color licence. Those only watching recorded content via streaming servings such iPlayer (or other non-live viewing methods) do not have to buy a TV licence. The BBC also sells its content abroad under licence.
The result is that only UK residents are permitted to watch BBC iPlayer (at least in theory). Unsurprisingly, however, many international viewers evade this restriction so they can watch high programming for free using geo-spoofing services such as VPN.
The BBC has now moved to prevent VPN users accessing the iPlayer service,
“You may also see this message if you are attempting to access iPlayer via a VPN (virtual private network), as we are not able to discriminate between a UK-based user of a public VPN service and a user of that same service based outside the UK.”
As with Hulu Plus, it seems the method used to block VPN users is to simply block IP addresses belonging to an identified list of VPN services, such as IPVanish and TorGuard.
This means that the VPN block can be evaded using less well-known VPN providers (my AirVPN service still works, for example), or by blocked VPN providers regularly recycling their IP addresses. As CEO of TorGuard, Ben van der Pelt, observed,
“Let the game of whack-an-IP begin.”
The move has raised the ire of privacy advocates, who note that licence fee paying UK residents who use VPN, not evade geo-restrictions, but to improve their privacy and security, are also blocked while connected to their VPN service.
These argue that the BBC’s new policy compromises legitimate viewers’ privacy by forcing them to disconnect their VPNs in order to watch iPlayer. As a TorGuard blog post notes,
“The nuke approach is also hitting all users of BBC that are using VPN software. That means that BBC is forcing its users within the UK to decide if they want the security of a VPN or the access of iPlayer.”
While we hope that VPN providers will stay ahead of the game in ensuring that their customers can continue access iPlayer, it is worth noting that SmartDNS services are not similarly blocked (indeed blocking such services is not easy to do.)
Expats and other overseas viewers who want to access iPlayer (and other geo-restricted services), but who are not concerned about the privacy and security advantages afforded by VPN, are therefore probably better off switching to a SmartDNS service instead. Check out our sister-site SmatDNS.com for more information.