Much has been written about how idiotic it is for the NBC to tape delay Olympic broadcasts when everybody already knows via Twitter what the outcome of an event has been. At the current Olympics we are witnessing like never before that the Internet is global and realtime whereas TV historically has been neither. Now you can in fact get live streaming of the Olympics but only if you are based in the UK.
Enter proxies. A proxy is an intermediate server that lets you appear as if you are located in the UK. Effectively, your browser connects to a machine that is in the UK and that machine then connects to the live streams. Browse through a UK proxy and you can watch the Olympics live over the Internet. This is a great example of how the Internet can “route” around an artificial limitation that someone is trying to impose on it.
I strongly support individuals’ use of proxies to circumvent arbitrary geographic restrictions. Why? Shouldn’t it be the BBC’s right to restrict where its live streaming is viewed? And shouldn’t it be the IOC's right to sell its broadcast and streaming rights in geographically restricted packages? I firmly believe that the answer to both questions is in fact No.
The argument for geographic carving up has been similar to the argument for release windows on movies: it allows the seller to maximize profits. Let’s start with the fact that being allowed to maximize profits is *not* a constitutional right here in the US (nor anywhere else that I am aware of). We already in many other instances impose restrictions on profit maximization for a greater social good (e.g., we regulate monopolies, product safety, etc). So to make artificial geographic restrictions illegal would be entirely consistent if we believe it serves a greater good.
A globally connected Internet is exactly such a greater good. A globally connected Internet is essential for access to learning and knowledge everywhere, for the spread of democracy and the downfall of tyranny, and is to date humanity’s best shot at cooperating to overcome war, poverty and disease.
I happen to also believe that in fact over time doing away with the geographic restrictions will allow the IOC to generate more profits because they will be able to control streaming themselves and won’t have to sell the rights off to third parties such as traditional broadcasters which will take a big cut or markup. Much like Louis CK can publish directly and make more money, so will the Olympics.
This is a perfect example of where being a Citizen of the Internet is at odds with being a citizen of a specific country in which artificial geographic constraints on the Internet constitute valid terms of service.
Let me try to put this into the starkest terms possible. In the US it is rightly illegal to refuse service on the basis of race or gender. It is time that we add geography to this for Internet based services. Until we do, I encourage the use of proxies as an act of civil disobedience to circumvent artificial geographic restrictions.
To be clear: if the BBC or the IOC were charging a reasonable fee for those Olympic live streams I would not support circumventing that to get free access, just like I wouldn’t support ripping off Louis CK by getting a free bootleg copy of his special.