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BBC iPlayer TV Service Starts to Block UK VPN Services

Friday, October 16th, 2015 (11:07 am) - Score 7,453
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In an effort to clampdown on Internet piracy the BBC has decided to block users of UK Virtual Private Networks (VPN) from being able to view their online iPlayer video streaming content, which has also restricted access for many legitimate users.

The iPlayer service is typically meant for TV viewers in the United Kingdom only and is funded by the licence fee. An international access service did use to exist for iPlayer, which required subscribers to pay a small fee, but that was closed down. In any case the BBC states that the vast majority of BBC iPlayer usage is in the UK.

However imposing a ‘dumb block’ against VPN services doesn’t just prevent foreigners from accessing iPlayer, it can also stop British expats and license fee paying UK citizens who may also be using such a service. Some Satellite using UK users may also suffer.

Many UK Internet users also adopt VPN’s to help keep their connections secure, such as when online at a public WiFi hotspot. A lot of businesses also run corporate VPN networks to help keep their workers connected when away from the office.

A BBC Spokesperson said (TorrentFreak):

We regularly make updates to our technology to help prevent access to BBC iPlayer from outside the UK which breaks our terms of use. BBC iPlayer is freely available to users across the UK without a VPN, and we also seek to ensure users of private VPNs such as those used by schools and companies in the UK have access.”

Naturally the BBC are keen to retain the value of their international content licensing deals, but such changes may also encourage users to hunt around for less legitimate sources and those can then become very attractive due to the wider choice of content.

Most VPN’s can probably get around such restrictions simply by cycling to a different pool of UK IP addresses (some have already “fixed” the problem) and so very quickly we return to the familiar game of whack-a-mole.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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26 Responses
  1. Avatar Boosey

    Sounds more like a threat than a promise, services will just keep cycling IP ranges and BBC’s network engineering know that.

    The only way to combat all this is to create a central authentication token based on your TV License/Government Gateway ID.

    • Avatar DanielM

      “The only way to combat all this is to create a central authentication token based on your TV License/Government Gateway ID.”

      not everyone has a TV license.. and a tvlicense is not required for iplayer

    • Avatar jamesM

      No but we still have to pay for a licence so it should be so. After all i am sure many who ” dont need a licence’ still watch the live stream. Make it UK only and also get rid of all these VPN’s and link it to a licence so deny people who dont pay the right to watch live streams

    • Avatar DanielM

      what a load of nonsense James! clearly you dont know what a VPN is in reality used for. i use a vpn myself for speedify.

    • Avatar Boosey

      Daniel, Why should the TV license payers be paying for content to be created/broadcast to those that aren’t contributing?
      My view is the law should be changed accordingly, and I imagine something will happen in this space over the coming years.

      Also, seeing as you want to be pedantic… there’s no reason why you can’t have a “TV License” identity and just declare you don’t watch live TV so have no liability.

    • Avatar Kal

      Boosey, with respect, your argument “Why should the TV license payers be paying for content to be created/broadcast to those that aren’t contributing?” is nonsensical.

      TV license payers are not paying for content to be created/broadcast to those that aren’t contributing because those who don’t have a license don’t have access to what is being broadcast (on-demand is not ‘broadcast’). iPlayer only has a fraction of the content that is broadcast live and any charge frankly wouldn’t be justified. I personally believe that the charge of over £12 per month for the license is excessive given the quality of the programmes these days (don’t get me started on £14 million of that money which goes to people like Jeremy Clarkson!).

  2. Avatar sentup.custard

    Failed.
    I always use a VPN (not always the same company), but have no interest in telly stuff so wouldn’t normally be affected anyway. However, on reading this article I tootled off to the BBC i-player site out of curiosity, clicked on something to play it, and with the one I’m currently using, it works.

    • Avatar sentup.custard

      Afterthought – for the avoidance of doubt, yes, it was a “live” programme that I selected, not one of the replays. It gave me a little “don’t forget you must have a TV licence to watch this” type of pop-up message, but that was all, no actual problems at all.

    • I doubt they’ve managed to block all of the many VPN providers out there and quite a few have already tweaked their systems to get around it, according to TF.

  3. Avatar stuart

    The BBC will be gearing up for their US launch next year. So I don’t think it’s a bad thing, as it will encourage more to subscribe. Hopefully they will roll out the subscription service worldwide. I would be nice if licence fee payers could also get access when they are abroad.

  4. Avatar Chris

    Well, if this was in place last night it didn’t stop me viewing a catch up program over a VPN. I am based in the UK and use a VPN as a matter of course – my VPN is from a large VPN provider. I don’t think this will make any difference. My mole hasn’t been whacked.

    It does grate a bit though as using a VPN is a perfectly legitimate thing to want to do and yes I do pay my TV licence although I watch practically no live TV.

  5. Avatar Ignition

    The BBC aren’t really serious about this. If they were rotating IP ranges would achieve nothing.

    Corporate networks shouldn’t be affected by this, though. The technology isn’t trying to detect VPNs, it’s just blocking IP addresses.

    Now if they were serious they could do things like white-listing known good IP ranges, black-listing known bad ones, and having an everything else list that merit further attention. That list they could do things like measuring TCP latency end-to-end to ascertain whether or not the original connection is coming from the UK, automatically blocking IP addresses that have more than a small number of concurrent sessions running simultaneously, and that’s just a random musing via layers 3 and 4.

    The application layer presents a number of other ways to detect people using VPNs.

    This was a bit of PR and a matter of minutes of work on the access lists.

    • Avatar Kal

      Ignition, I agree, I was also curious as to why they missed a huge marketing opportunity to distribute a subscription to other countries who were watching iPlayer. They found 65 million people or something were using it and now a lot of those people have been forced to use a ‘back door’ and so when they do roll out a worldwide subscription these users will say “no thanks, you forced me to find a way to get it for free now, which works :)”
      Regarding the PR: How long have the BBC been lying about ‘detection equipment they can use to scare people into buying licenses? I believe people should pay for what they use but companies have to conduct themselves with integrity and nationwide campaigns of lying is not what you’d expect from this institution.

  6. Avatar dave

    this is a good thing really. VPN is used for privacy but all you can do on iplayer is watch tv shows which is hardly sensitive info unlike a search engine which is something very important to privacy. It will be good to get rid of many of the foreigners stealing our content.

  7. Avatar cyclope

    If you are resident in the uk why shouldn’t you be able to access I player content, from overseas should you be working or on holidays? there again there isn’t that much that i deem worth my while watching on the bias left wing bbc
    No doubt they wont ban French IP’s as they wouldn’t want those poor economic illegal immigrants to miss question time or EastEnders would they now, even if they have zero chance of ever getting any tv licence funds from them once they land here

  8. Is there anything worth watching on the BBC? I can’t think of anything offhand… Anyone?

    • Avatar Groucho

      My thoughts exactly! It’s funny how the ‘TV’ licence has crept across to funding internet technology. The BBC seems to have so many commercial irons in the fire, yet still expects Joe Public to come up with the licence fee.

    • Avatar Kal

      Totally agree. Over £12 month is extortionate when you consider the poor quality content now. They could significantly reduce the costs, and perhaps pay the newsreaders less than their £350,000 a year or the likes of Jeremy Clarkson his £14,000,000 (according to his last years salary).

  9. Avatar Trevor Harris

    Openvpn can be run on the raspberry pi. You do need a good upload speed though. If you have a dynamic ip address you will also need a dynamic dns server. I use dnsexit which is free.

  10. Avatar t0m5k1

    So now they want to block VPN access & many posters on here think VPN = piracy.
    What do you base your accusation on?
    Do you know what a Virtual Private Network is really used for?
    Do you know how many business use it & what for?
    I very much doubt it at all

    If you did not notice this is another “mouth” that are just trying to say that VPN is bad hmmmm I wonder why Gov. would want you to agree with that hmmm Privacy online …net neutrality hmmm EU creating laws to ensure the net is open & not invading your privacy yeet the Camoron clan want to make local laws that ensure they control, block, filter, throttle & close in what you can & cannot do online.
    Yes VPNs make it hard for gchq to snoop on what you do but hey it don’t matter as you don’t do anything naughty online so why stop them doing that. Schucks I’m so squecky clean I’ll let them put a cctv in my house because my privacy does not matter at all to me & should not matter to you either.

    Think people

  11. Avatar adampetedelevigne

    Thanks for the article. For those who live outside UK and want to access BBC iPlayer, you can use UnoTelly as I do to get around the geo block.

  12. I think it should be our right (All Uk citizen) to watch all uk content from all over the world. It should not be blocked and i am totally condemn it. In fact due to this geo restricted issues, we have to buy vpn account. In fact i my self personally have 3 account of top vpnranks just because of unblock my favorite content. Although in some case its right but for our its not.

  13. Avatar Roy

    I am a UK resident. I pay tax in the UK and have a TV licence. When I go on holiday, I take a laptop with me. I sometimes want to watch British TV programmes on the aforementioned laptop. Can anyone tell me why I should not be able to so?

    • Avatar Kal

      Because you could, theoretically, have a party and show BBC programmes on a large projector from your laptop where foreigners, who have’t paid a TV license, would be able to watch our British programmes, for free!!

      …I’m kiding, :). I totally agree with you. Even to the extent that family members of mine who retired and live in Spain, having paid a license fee for over 40 years, should have access.

  14. Avatar Dave Wade

    Well it appears to be doing more than block VPN addresses as my personal VPN does not work, yet I can watch TV on my laptop via TeamViewer remote control. They are both using the same IP address externally so not sure what its doing.

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