Q. I’ve had trouble watching Netflix on my laptop and streaming devices ever since I put a VPN on our home network. Could the VPN be the problem? (I installed it to get around sports blackouts, of course. But I also like it because it stops companies from snooping on us.) It doesn’t seem like it should be because I can go to other sites just fine. — Chris, Santa Monica, California.
Chris, the VPN can be a double-edge sword. While it can allow you to skirt in-market sports blackouts, it can actually create viewing obstacles. Before I explain further, a little background on VPNs for our readers who are not familiar.
VPN stands for Virtual Private Network, a software that you can download that will enable you to use an IP address different from your own. For instance, if you live in Santa Monica, California, you could insert an IP address in your Internet modem’s software supplied by the VPN company that would make it look like you live in Denmark or some other faraway land.
Some VPNs users like them because they can make it more difficult for companies and/or nefarious individuals to track your location and movements. But it can also be quite handy if you want to watch your home team on MLB.TV, the league’s online package of ‘out-of-market’ games.
For instance, MLB.TV would normally black out the Los Angeles Dodgers in Santa Monica, but if your VPN is pointing to Denmark, it wouldn’t. (The use of VPNs to avoid blackouts can trigger a heated ethical discussion, but I’ll save that for another day.)
The cost of a VPN varies, but many services sell them for under $10 a month.
Now, since you are having issues watching Netflix with a VPN, I’m guessing that it’s pointing to somewhere outside the country. And that’s a no-no for Netflix. The streaming service has different lineups in more than 100 countries and it won’t allow someone in one country watch the lineup of another. For instance, if you are in the United States, you are supposed to watch the Netflix lineup here. If you are in Mexico, you watch Netflix’s Mexican service. And so on.
“Because our content library can vary by region and (VPNs) are frequently used to bypass geolocation methods, you will not be able to stream when connected in this way,” Netflix cautions at its site. “Because there is no reliable way for us to determine if a VPN or proxy is being used for legitimate purposes, any VPN or proxy use will prevent you from streaming Netflix. Please disable any VPN or proxy and try Netflix again.”
However, before you decide to cancel your Netflix subscription, or disconnect your VPN, you might try subscribing to a VPN that allows you to point your IP address to a different market in the United States. For example, if you are in Santa Monica, have the VPN point to Detroit or Chicago or Providence, Rhode Island. Anywhere but the Los Angeles market.
I’ve never tried this myself, but it might work despite Netflix’s warning. As I always tell my eight-year-old daughter, you never know until you try.
If it does work, you could watch your Dodgers and U.S. Netflix. (I know. I know. Ethics again. Well, feel free to post your comments below.)
If it doesn’t work, you could remove the VPN, of course. Or perhaps, you could become more familiar with the best Netflix has to offer in Danish entertainment. (Just kidding.)
Chris, hope that helps. Happy viewing, and stay safe.
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— Phillip Swann