Choice lauds NZ ISP's anti-geo-blocking service

Australian ISP iiNet watching "with interest" NZ service that lets Kiwis access content streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu

Australian consumer advocacy group Choice has welcomed an announcement by New Zealand Internet service provider Slingshot of a service that makes it easier to access overseas streaming services such as Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and BBC iPlayer.

Normally these services are 'geo-blocked', restricting access to the services to those who live in markets served by their parent companies. However, Slingshot has now enabled its free 'Global Mode' service by default for its customers.

Previously, customers had to opt into Global Mode.

This means customers can more easily subscribe to services, such as Netflix, that are normally unavailable to New Zealanders, without having to configure proxies or VPNs.

"This is exactly the type of service Australian consumers should have access to," a Choice spokesperson said.

"Choice research continues to show consumers are paying approximately 50 per cent more for digital products and services than consumers in the US and UK."

According to the group this is despite digital products not having the overheads associated with selling physical products in Australia. For example, Australians have been paying 54 per cent more than people in the US for the top 10 new release movies in Apple’s iTunes store, the consumer group stated in a submission to the government's Competition Policy Review.

The consumer group has previously released a guide to help Australians bypass geo-blocking.

"I think it is a good thing for an ISP to connect paying customers to legitimate content; that is their role, after all," chief regulatory officer of Australian ISP iiNet, Steve Dalby, said.

The ISP will be "watching the NZ experiment with interest," Dalby said.

"Australians are already accessing paid content by using a variety of online services and techniques," Dalby said.

Read more: Slingshot opens up access to global video streaming services

"iiNet doesn’t currently provide any services that are specifically designed to access geo-blocked content, but it is likely that some iiNet customers are already purchasing content using similar techniques to those offered by Slingshot."

"Instead of addressing the reasons why Australians illegally download movies and TV shows, the government instead seems determined to be seen to be ‘doing something’ to ISPs while defending, at all costs, the business model of the Hollywood movie houses," Dalby wrote last month in a blog entry that criticised the approach of federal attorney-general George Brandis.

Brandis has publicly raised a variety of options to counter piracy, such as website takedowns and a warning system.

Announcing the changes to Global Mode late last week, Slingshot general manager Taryn Hamilton said that New Zealanders were tired of paying higher prices for digital content.

"We are now giving Kiwis access to these sites – and an option to pay for the content they want to watch at a fair price," Hamilton said.

"The limited access New Zealanders have to content that is widely available overseas is an issue that needs to be addressed," the Slingshot GM said.

"There is no valid argument as to why New Zealanders are paying much more for the same content as others in the world. We shouldn’t tolerate it. This issue extends far beyond TV and movies, with Kiwis paying significantly more for many technology services and products from the world’s biggest brands than in many other countries."

In Australia, the sentiments were echoed by Choice.

"Australian consumers want access to affordable digital content, which the market has been unable to deliver to date," the spokesperson said.

"Navigating around domestic geo-blocks to access and pay for services such as Netflix and Hulu is a great way for consumers to enjoy the benefits of competition.

"Last year the bipartisan IT pricing inquiry recommended an end to geo-blocking and the competition policy review that is currently underway now has an opportunity to take up the Inquiries recommendations and put an end to digital discrimination in Australia."

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