An Almanac For The 21st Century

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Say "¡Hola!" To Your New Favorite Gizmo

Say "¡Hola!" To Your New Favorite Gizmo

There's nothing worse in this digital age of streaming video and net neutrality than wanting to watch something and getting the dreaded "This video is not available in your country" message. It's TWENTY FIFTEEN. Aren't we supposed to be past this? Aren't we supposed to be living in a tech-filled world of tomorrow? If you told the Jetsons their sky city was going to have such frustrating restrictions they'd probably say, "No thanks, bro. I'd rather stay on the surface of our scorched Earth and die."

Fortunately for humanity, there is a way to bypass the whole "only available in X country" mess, it's incredibly simple, and best of all, it's free. It's called Hola - BUT - before I tell you about how awesome it is, I'm going to give you a little disclaimer, so hold on to your butts. I did a little research on Hola for this blog, and I found out it's a VPN, which stands for Virtual Private Network. I read a lot about this, in hopes that I could explain it in layman's terms, but after Googling and reading and analytically thinking, I have no idea what a VPN is. Sorry. If you want to learn more about VPNs, I think this Lifehacker article got me the closest to comprehension. I am fairly certain, however, that I'm not using Hola as a VPN, so that's probably why I don't get what one is. The point being, I think Hola is amazing, and I only use a teensy weensy fraction of what it's capable of. Imagine how great it must be if you actually know what you're doing!

You can use Hola for all kinds of high-tech activities, or you can use it like I do: To watch foreign TV shows that are blocked in your home country. And when I say foreign TV shows, I mean British programming. And when I say British programming, I mean like three shows each from Channel 4, ITV, and the BBC. I told you I wasn't using Hola to its full potential.

And yet, Hola has completely changed my life. Remember when I wrote about how much I adore My Mad Fat Diary, but that there's no way to legally watch it in the US? Hola clears that problem right up. (I'll get into legality a little bit later on, don't worry.) I was able to watch Call the Midwife when it was originally aired in the UK instead of waiting months for PBS to air it. I can watch amazing (amazingly horrible and exploitive) Channel 4 documentaries that I used to have to hunt down on YouTube. And Gogglebox. Don't get me started on Gogglebox. (Too late! It's in Saturday's post.)

As mentioned before, Hola is so simple even an idiot like me who doesn't know what a VPN is can use it. You simply install the Hola app for your browser (I use Chrome, so that's the example used for this post, but Firefox is also supported) and a little icon pops up in the corner of your browser that I lovingly call "Flame Head."

Once Flame Head is situated in your browser, and it's time for you to watch Gogglebox or Poldark (two of my current uses for Hola) you click him and this comes up:

I like to go to the bottom where it says "Popular sites," which opens a new tab that looks like this:

From here I choose the site I want, and after the "unblocking" process, you will be taken to that site, where you can browse as though you are in the site's country of origin, i.e., when I'm watching the BBC's iPlayer, it says that I'm browsing from London. Flame head will turn into a Union Jack, signifying that I am now browsing from the UK, and all sites that would be blocked to users outside the UK are now open and available to me.

On to legality. With Hola, you're not accessing HBO or some other premium channel without paying. You are also not accessing sites that require any kind of login without having a sufficient login. You are simply accessing sites that you would have access to if you were in that country. So say I have an HBO subscription and I want to watch Game of Thrones, but I'm on vacation in a country where HBOGo is blocked. With Hola I can access HBOGo through a US server, but I still need my login to watch Game of Thrones. Now let's reverse that. I'm Sarah and I'm addicted to Gogglebox, but there's no way for me to watch it in the US legally. If I were in the UK, as long as I have Internet access, I can watch Channel 4's programming online. If I were in the UK I wouldn't even need to be a cable subscriber to access it. In fact, when I watch Channel 4 On Demand, I sit through commercials just like anyone else (although they are British ads, so it's slightly more interesting and sometimes even compelling.) As a third example, I'd imagine if I were in a country other than the US I'd use Hola to watch a crapload of Hulu. It is not illegal (in the straightforward sense) to use Hola to watch TV in this way, BUT it might be a violation of the terms and conditions you agree to either directly or indirectly when you use any given website. So if you're concerned, check with your preferred content provider.

The only thing that, while not illegal, seems slightly sketchy, is accessing the BBC. I'd always equated the BBC with PBS. Hell, at least half the programming on PBS is from the BBC. But while PBS is funded by donations from "viewers like you," the BBC is funded by a tax paid by its viewers. I have no idea really how this system works or is enforced, seeing as I have never lived in Britain. But apparently there is a tax that all who wish to view BBC programming must pay in order to keep the operation up and running. Since the BBC's online player does not require any proof that you've paid this tax, perhaps that's why the BBC is dying a very slow, prolonged death. They should take a page from PBS's book and offer people tote bags in exchange for donations.

So now that you know how to freely access the internet without pesky geographic censorship getting in the way, maybe you can help me out. Do you know what a VPN is? What's up with the BBC tax? Has Reverend Kate from Gogglebox also made you desperate for a Shroud of Turin tea towel?!

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