In this guide, you’ll learn all you need to know about it – what is geo-restriction, why it exists, how it works, why VPN and DNS are important for avoiding it and what are the best VPN services in 2019.
The Internet represents a profitable opportunity for companies that stream videos. The major part of population is knee-deep in the platform-industrial complex, spending a lot of money on different subscription services and platforms ranging from Amazon Prime to Netflix to Hulu to Apple Music.
Digital TV Research stated that video streaming subscriptions globally will rise by 409 million by 2023 to a total of 777 million. Despite the Internet being almost ever-present, geography still bounds us. There is a prevailing illusion that we’ve deleted national borders and that the world wide web is a place to freely share and enjoy content, regardless of where we are.
Geo-restriction is here to prove us otherwise. In this guide, you’ll learn all you need to know about it – what is geo-restriction, why it exists, how it works, why VPN and DNS are important for avoiding it and what are the best VPN services in 2019.
What is Geo-Restriction?
Geo-blocking or Geo-restriction is a process companies utilize to limit or block access to a part or the entirety of their online services and content for some users. The “geo” part is because the practice excludes individuals based on their physical location.
For example, if you tried to access Hulu or Pandora Radio from outside the U.S, you would likely see a message like “the content/service isn’t available in your area”. This is geo-restriction, and it either disables you from accessing the platform or redirects you to your region’s version of the said website, often containing limited content.
The process works because streaming services can view your location when you access their website, and they want to protect content which is intended for particular regions only.
The rationale behind platforms implementing regional restrictions
The three biggest reasons for geo-blocking are:
- Licensing agreements.
- Marketing partners protection.
- Complying with the law.
Different nations have different standards as to what kind of content they allow to be viewed. In order to be able to work in other countries, many companies and platforms have to employ geo-restriction to disable accessing content which the government deemed inappropriate.
Major content providers such as Amazon Prime, Netflix, or HBO, often enforce geo-blocking since they have to follow strict content-related copyright regulations. In essence, content providers don’t always own the complete rights to all the content they provide, so it isn’t in their control whether or not they make it available worldwide, but rather to the legal rights holders.
Ultimately, a content provider will use regional restriction in the form of “blackout” – blocking people from accessing a particular broadcast or content since one of their local partners is showing the content. This usually happens in sports games, where a platform blocks out the game while it is being played, so a local or national channel doesn’t have to compete with it.
The legality of geo-blocking
When it comes to the law, geo-restriction is in a gray area. As there is no multi-national body regulating it, geo-blocking varies by nation. For example, in locations like Australia, America, or Canada, geo-blocking is quite normal since they’re essential for complying with copyright and licensing agreements.
Currently, it appears that only the EU is beginning to take a harsh stand against this process. As of 2018, the EU adopted a geo-restriction regulation, which prohibits unjustified regional blocking, and other forms of discrimination, based on place of residence or nationality. However, the ban doesn’t apply if “geo-restriction is necessary to ensure compliance with the legal requirement”, basically enabling a loophole.
The situation isn’t as grim, though – as of April 2018, the EU adopted new digital media portability regulations, requiring content providers that offer paid services to also offer a kind of a “roaming” within the European Union – enabling a user from the UK enjoy the same UK content in different EU nation, for instance.
The inner workings of regional blocking
Geo-restriction typically works by identifying your real-world location based on your IP address. The restrictions are generally put in place by the developers of different platforms and websites. Every single device on the Internet has a dedicated IP address, and by determining it, the service providers can reveal some details about you. While those details won’t show your exact place, they can tell what region you’re from.
Sometimes the content is blocked inside the same nation. For instance, sports games may not be available to you in particular regions of the U.S. or Canada.
Bypassing Geo-blocking with a VPN
VPNs are the most popular tactic to remove geo-blocking. A VPN spoofs (hides) your true IP address by replacing it with the IP address of VPN server you connect to. Hence, any platform you connect to with a VPN will only see the VPN server’s IP address. For instance, if you connect to a US-based VPN server from the UK, any streaming service you access will think you are connecting to them from the US.
Since a VPN utilizes encryption to protect your online connections, it might slow down your online speed a bit. Don’t worry, this slowdown is often not very noticeable, and having a cyber-secured, encrypted connection to the Internet makes it worthwhile.
Bypassing Geo-restrictions with Proxy server
A proxy server serves as a middleman between a client’s device like your computer and another server from which the client is requesting the service. It uses one of its own IP addresses to access the website you want to view. Moreover, it utilizes local cashing to provide quicker responses to the cashed websites. This means that if it discovers the requested web page in the local cache of a previously visited page, it returns it to the user without forwarding the request to the web.
Some of its major drawbacks include:
- Servers becoming overcrowded.
- Suffering huge downtime.
- Not being able to access the content behind the login wall such as Hulu or Netflix.
Bypassing regional blocking with Smart DNS
A Smart DNS doesn’t exactly spoof your IP address, but it does mask your ISP (Internet Service Provider)-assigned DNS address, which also has data that can reveal your geo-location to content providers. In essence, the Smart DNS service replaces your original DNS with a new one that points to an “approved” physical location.
In addition, a Smart DNS also intercepts your connection requests and removes any data that could be linked to your physical premises. After, it replaces that information with new data that is associated with a geo-location where the content you want to access is available. Keep in mind, though, that Smart DNS list of pre-unblocked websites doesn’t have every streaming service of a particular region, and that your ISP can block the Smart DNS by using a transparent proxy.
Bypassing regional restrictions with a Tor browser
Tor is a free-to-use service which enables individuals to browse the Internet anonymously by hiding their IP address. Based on the concept of Onion Routing, in which the data is first encrypted and then transmitted via several servers, it basically transfers your data through multiple relays, providing multi-layered encryption and ensuring your identity remains hidden. Each encrypted layer is decrypted at the successive relay, and the data that remains is transmitted to any random relay until it travels to its final destination.
Because the number of relays on the TOR network is about 6000-7000 and its user base is approximately around 2 million, you will often face slow internet speed while browsing with it, and there is also a chance that TOR will be blocked by the government.
In summary, since geo-blocking can be applied only if your IP address is visible on the Internet, the best way to stream geo-restricted content is to hide your IP address. VPN and Smart DNS services are typically more reliable than Proxy servers and TOR as they are more secure and less detrimental to your browsing speed.