US army bases get full Netflix, soldiers living off-site suffer

Ray Walsh

Ray Walsh

January 27, 2016

Netflix invests a lot of cash on the content that it provides on its service. Just today, in fact, news has emerged about Netflix buying up a lot of content at the prestigious Sundance film festival. Licensing that video content is the backbone of its business, and making deals with networks and studios around the world often involves agreeing to certain restrictions about where Netflix can, and cannot, show that content. For Netflix, having the same service in every country would be highly beneficial, but because of the nature of the Beast, it has to struggle on with a catalogue that varies in different countries.

For many Netflix consumers around the world, the knowledge that the US catalogue is a lot more exciting – and often a little bit cheaper – can be a bit of a sting in the tail. It is for this reason that many people turn to VPN providers in order to spoof their location to the US and open up the bonanza of content that is usually restricted to their IP address.


A year ago the firm added a clause to its contract stating that anybody who did use a VPN service for Netflix would face being cut off for breaking the licensing agreements that Netflix has in place. Some time passed, however, and nothing occurred – people could still access the bigger catalogue using a VPN – and the media reported that Netflix had only added the clause to appease the ruthless networks and studios – who always nag and moan incessantly at Netflix’s door – Stop the VPN Pirates!!

Fast Forward to a fortnight ago, and Netflix once more made the papers because of its announcement that people’s thrilling VPN days were numbered. The company was finally going to begin disallowing the use of VPNs.

At this time, Netflix also went global – expanding into 130 new countries – everywhere apart from Syria, Crimea, North Korea, and China. Most people agree that the timing of the expansion and the announcement of the VPN crackdown are linked.  With all those extra countries able to sign up to Netflix – and the use of a VPN to unblock the US catalogue such common knowledge – content owners likely put pressure on Netflix to be vocal about the ban on VPNs.

The big question on everybody’s lips, however, was ‘will Netflix really be able to enforce a crackdown?’ The simple answer to that thank goodness is no. The reason? Despite the fact that Netflix has indeed expanded its index of blacklisted addresses, the fact remains that it is very easy for VPN providers to simply shift their servers around and once more offer the unblocking service.

Now, new information has surfaced that is making people want to use VPNs all the more, and as per usual it has to do with consumers feeling ripped off and unfairly treated. The latest chapter in the Netflix story is the revelation that the firm does not put geo blocks on US army bases around the world. Instead, letting servicemen access their US account and all that juicy extra content,

‘Netflix always exempts U.S. military bases around the world. They will still be able to access the U.S. catalog,’ comments Netflix’s Anne Marie Squeo.


While, in fact, it is not problematic to most people that US servicemen should be allowed to see all the content that they have paid for -what does annoy most people – is that the military is getting something that the average US person is not allowed when they go on holiday.

Arguably, if you are from the US and go on vacation – because you are still a US resident to whom the content has been officially licensed – you ought to be able to access that content while abroad. After all, when on holiday you are not a local resident trying to access content that you are not entitled to: you are somebody (like a serviceman living on a military base) who has the right to that content who has been unfairly locked out.

Sadly, due to the way that geoblocking works, when a US citizen goes on holiday to a country with a smaller catalogue – despite being a person to whom the large catalogue is technically licensed – the act of being on vacation means their home content has now disappeared. Ridiculous.

Like many foreign consumers who want to access the US catalogue, US citizens often turn to a VPN when they are on holiday to unblock their favorite shows. Most VPN providers offer a monthly subscription, meaning that – for a meager amount – a US citizen can be re-hooked-up to the content that they pay for, technically in breach of their contract.

This is where the story gets interesting. Despite servicemen being allowed to access the US version of the Netflix catalogue when living on a military base, servicemen living off-site actually have the same problem as US holidaymakers. US content is blocked, and they only have access to locally restricted video content. Jesse Fowler, a serviceman who is stationed in Bahrain is one of those people and he freely admits that he uses a VPN. For obvious reasons, he is not very happy at the prospect that a Netflix crackdown could stop him,

‘…I’m mad if I can’t change where my Internet is so I can’t watch my own shows,’ he commented after finding out about the crackdown.

Navy counselor Eric Cutright, who is also stationed in Bahrain, shares Fowler’s sentiments acknowledging that not being able to use a VPN would be hugely damaging to the quality of his life,

‘My VPN hasn’t been blocked. But if it does, I will be pissed. Netflix Bahrain is trash,’ comments Cutright.

Luckily for the boys in uniform, US citizens going on holiday, and international Netflix subscribers, it would appear that despite all the hot air and worry that has been spread about a crackdown on VPNs, so far not much has come of it. While it is true that Netflix is actively seeking to expand its blacklist to stop people using VPNs, it is also true that this decision did not come from Netflix, but rather from content owners. For this reason, and because cutting people off would work against Netflix’s best economic interests, the truth remains that using a VPN will not get you cut off from your Netflix account.

As such, if you do happen to wake up one day and have problems using your VPN to log into the US Netflix, your best course of action is to contact your chosen VPN provider to let them know about the issue. In this way, your VPN company (which more than likely wants to continue offering this important part of its service) will be able to make an effort to shift its servers around as quickly as it can –  restoring your ability to bypass the geo blocks that have been spoiling your fun.


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