No more TV services… once again!

In my area, there is two main providers of high speed internet services: Bell the historic telco monopoly and Videotron, the historic cable-TV monopoly. Both are still carrying traditional TV services and both are owners of content producers and distributors.

In such, they have a vested interest in keeping you subscribed to TV package. In doing so, they will try to lure you to buy a TV package with your Internet service in a form or another. They will create special discounts and rebate that sometimes, makes your cable and Internet bundle even cheaper than an Internet only subscription. They are off course in conflict of interest.

So, even I did “cut the cord” for a few years before, Bell got me back about two years ago with an Internet/TV service. At first, it wasn’t much but gradually, we added HBO and a few other services. Then, we moved at the end of June. Our new flat was brand new with Internet and TV service being new installs.

We have been using a fiber-to-the-home service and in that configuration, Bell is streaming it’s TV service with a set QoS , separated from the main Internet data path. This streams to a wifi set-top box. After the move, they were not able to deliver a stable TV service, despite three technician visits. Maybe it demonstrate the complexity of the new system of the lack of training of the installation staff. Anyway, their inability to deliver a seamless TV experience is what lead me to “cut the cord” once again.

However, I was faced with a new chalenge. We still enjoy some traditional TV content. When I did “cut the cord” for the first time, I had the possibility of putting up a terrestrial TV antenna on my roof. That did provide me with the local Montréal TV channels but also the signals from near-by US stations in Plattsburgh, NY and Burlington, VT. These include ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC and PBS affiliates. This time, the landlord is preventing us from installing an outside antenna on the building so it was not so easy.

One World Trade Center
TV transmitters like the one on top of One World Trade Center,
are reaching a smaller amount of viewers nowadays.

From TV service to… TV service

To still get those broadcast station, I did try a Bell Internet-based TV service called “ALT TV”. This enable streaming live and on-demand TV to Internet devices including, mobile phones, computers and various service clients (Chromecast, Apple TV, smart-TV…). One nice thing is that it allows to acces the content anywhere… well anywhere as long as you are in Canada. What is doesn’t allow also is recording. So if you don’t watch live and the content is not available on-demand, you are out of luck.

The fact that is doesn’t record and that it is not available outside of Canada is an issue for me. See, I am spending about half of my outside of Canada. Geographic-based restrictions are unfortunately still widespread today. If I would follow strictly the terms of service of the content provider, I would have to have multiple subscriptions in every country that I visit, and certainly full subscriptions in both US and Canada as those are the two places where I am most of the time. This is outrageous and an incentive not to get content legally. If I have to pay twice for the content, why should I bother at all?

Internet only providers such as Netflix and Amazon prime have more flexible policies. My subscriptions to those two services work in every country. The content is not exactly the same but if I am in the US, I can access the US content and if I am in Canada, I can access the content available in Canada. I don’t need to subscribe twice.

However, the broadcaster don’t get it (or don’t care). For instance, CBS has an Internet offering called “CBS All access”. That service does exist in both US and Canada. However, the content is also not the same, but the subscriptions are country-based. The US subscription to “CBS All access” works only in the US and the Canadian one works only in Canada.

The Bell Alt TV service is solidly locked so it really doesn’t work legally or easily if you are outside of Canada. For that reason, this TV service is really not that useful to me. I am currently subscribing to it but I will likely cancel it soon. In addition to the broadcast channels, they gave me two months of free pay TV including the Showtime content and HBO.

The grey area… VPNs.

Subscribing legally to content but watching outside your region is somewhat a grey area. According to the terms of service, you should not but in good faith, you are still paying for the content. I am not sure how this would stand in court but it is technically achievable with the use of a VPN service (Virtual Private Networks).

There are quite a few commercial offering and a popular one, and the one that I have been using is ExpressVPN. They have client applications to a number of platform and server all over the world.

VPNs are used both to appear to be elsewhere on the Internet and to provide additional security against identity theft.

Experimenting with VPNs, I have been able to widen my options. Since I can appear to be located in any country, I can use some services that I could not otherwise.

Here are the results that I have been able to achieve:

  • CBS All access; I was able to use my US-based subscription from Canada and elsewhere in world without issues;
  • Bell Alt TV: This one is a tricky one. This is a canada-based subscription. Their iPhone app is using the IP location and the GPS location. If I cut the access to the GPS location, the app doesn’t work. So, the VPN is not useful in that case. The solution that I have found is to access it with my MacBook with the VPN in a web browser. In that configuration, I can access my content anywhere.
  • Formula 1 racing: I didn’t want a full sport channel subscription just for this. But, in some country, Formula 1 is broadcast on free broadcast channels… and some of those are available live on the Internet as long as you are connected in that country. I was able for instance to watch live Grand Prix this way.

In conclusion, I am not very happy with the current TV offering on the Internet, especially those of the broadcast networks. However, there are solutions that are practical if you care to use a VPN and walk in a grey area. I will continue to experiment with it and I will post further results. Please comment and share your experiences!

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