Online services like Netflix, Hulu, Pandora, Spotify, Steam and many more have changed the way millions of people access media. They have brought in an era of instant, on-demand digital media consumption in a world where linear programming, bundled content and physical formats no longer fit into many people’s lives.
Unfortunately this is a revolution that not everyone can take part in (yet or not so easily, at least) because such services employ area locks to limit access from specific countries. Mostly it’s not really their fault, they just need to follow the old license agreements enforced by the actual content owners.
In this article we will provide you with three options to avoid these restrictions. Each has its advantages and disadvantages and which route you choose will depend on the services you need access to as well as the devices you need to access them – not to mention Not whether you are willing to pay or not.
Most likely you will only need one of these options. Here’s a brief rundown of what you can expect from each of them, so you can go over the one that’s better suited for the task and be on your way quickly.
Using a proxy is a quick and easy way to bypass the geographic restrictions of websites. This database on proxy.org, Hide My Ass, updated in real time, or via a simple Google search ([country name] free proxy) There are many public proxies freely available. Ideally you want to look for a “high anonymity” proxy that doesn’t reveal your IP to remote hosts or identify itself as a proxy when connecting to websites.
As with almost everything that comes for free, however, there are some caveats. For starters, most free proxies don’t allow streaming, so you’ll have to dig around. You may also need to change proxies frequently which is a bit cumbersome in the long run compared to a VPN. Finally, since these are the public proxies we’re talking about, there’s no guarantee of a truly secure connection, so you don’t want to leave them on all the time.
Another free option is ProxMate, a simple extension for Chrome and Firefox that unblocks region-specific content from YouTube, Hulu, and Grooveshark. It’s currently limited to those services, but promises to add more in the future and lets you set up your own proxy servers to automatically get past any country-specific blocks. Plus, you can easily enable or disable it directly from the browser toolbar.
Alternative #2: VPN
Proxies are fine for getting around region blocks at times, but they’re far from ideal if you want permanent, reliable access to media streaming services from your PC — plus they only work with applications that In fact do support proxies, like browsers. Virtual Private Networks are a safe bet and when it comes to speed and bandwidth caps you can find some free alternatives as well, albeit with some limitations.
Basically a VPN creates a connection between your computer and a server in a host country, which will assign you an IP and route all internet traffic through that connection. This means that your real IP will be hidden and any site you visit will look like a request originated in the host server country.
Most VPNs offer some level of encryption for added privacy and security and some offer a choice of server locations; So if you want to watch Hulu, for example, you can connect to a server in the US. Switch to a UK server and you can access BBC’s iPlayer. Others also advertise Total Privacy packages with servers in the Netherlands or secure P2P downloads via servers in Lithuania, Ukraine, Russia, Estonia. but I digress.
Hotspot Shield is arguably the most popular free VPN service out there; It requires downloading a special app and you’ll be able to stream US-based content in no time, but you’ll have to put up with ads while browsing and often with a slow connection. Also, services like Hulu are known to actively block Hotspot Shield.
My favorite free option and the one I recommend getting started with a VPN right now is called TunnelBear. It works with a standalone app on OS X or Windows and is extremely easy to use. There’s no configuration involved, just install it and sign up for an account. Within the TunnelBear interface you will be able to toggle the VPN connection on or off with a single click and switching between US or UK servers is as easy.
The only caveat (there’s always one with free services) is that you’re limited to 500MB of data per month. On the upside, there are no ads, and you can always upgrade to a paid account with unlimited bandwidth for $5 monthly or $50 for a full year.