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geolocation woes

Recently I joined the ranks of Netflix subscribers. We’ve been especially enjoying the “watch instantly” feature, where instead of waiting for a DVD in the mail, you get to watch as much as you want as streaming video from their website.

Yesterday, coincidentally the same day that Netflix charged my credit card because the free trial period had ended, the instant section of the website became suddenly and completely closed to me. Here’s what it claimed:

Our systems indicate that the computer you are using is not located within the 50 United States or District of Columbia. Due to studio licensing reasons, movies are available to watch instantly only on computers in those locations.

As recently as yesterday, this worked perfectly. Before contacting anyone about the problem, I did a number of troubleshooting steps. I went to what is my ip to make sure that I didn’t have some malware on my machine that was directing my traffic through Nigeria. It showed the right address. I verified the whois data for my IP address. That checked out – Xmission in Salt Lake City, UT. I tried it in Firefox rather than IE7, just for giggles. Although you can’t actually watch video in Firefox, it will still bring up the list of movies available. That didn’t work. I then tried it using a text-mode browser under Linux (elinks for the curious) on one of my servers, which has a different public IP address than the firewall that protects my Windows machines. That also failed. I rebooted, logged off the website and back on, all with no effect.

My first contact was Netflix. The guy I got didn’t seem to be firing on all cylinders, especially when he told me that it would take 3-4 weeks to fix the problem. After that, I hopped onto an IRC channel where all the tech guys from my ISP hang out, and ranted about the problem to them. While I was there, one of them said that he was on the phone with someone having the same problem. We checked known geolocation databases and they all give the right country for my IP address. I also discovered that I was blocked from watching video clips on the SciFi channel website. The message there was more cryptic, but sounded like it thought I was outside the US.

I called Netflix back and got someone with more of a clue. He told me that it looked like the company they use for geolocation screwed something up, and confirmed the bad news – it normally takes 2-4 weeks for requested changes to be reflected in their system. He could verify that I had watched everything from the same IP address for the last two weeks.

I was finally able to watch something by making a VPN connection to my office, but the encapsulation adds overhead that drops my available bandwidth significantly, so it’s not a real solution. As of this morning, the problem with my own IP address has not been fixed. I’m going to write a nastygram to Netflix later today about the problem, and if it really does take two or more weeks to fix the problem, I’m definitely going to ask for a credit on my account. I think I might also submit my story to slashdot. I don’t dare give them my blog address, though. I don’t think my Internet connection or my server could take the load.