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Brits abroad are online outcasts
I AM so frustrated! Broadcasting laws and licensing rules mean that I can’t watch the BBC’s Olympic coverage unless I’m in the UK. Which I’m not. And I’m not alone.
Apparently there are some 5.5 million British nationals living permanently around the world, and in any one month there are around a further 1.5 million of us on holiday or undertaking business trips abroad.
So we’re the forgotten seven million. Which means a not insignificant chunk of the country’s passport holders is being denied full internet access to the greatest show on earth. Yes, that’s right. You read that correctly.
The greatest show on earth. For I’m now a huge Olympic fan. Given that I could have won an Olympic gold for being the most cynical person out there about the sporting extravaganza coming to Britain, the angle of my U-turn is almost as acute as one of those undertaken by the coalition government.
But the undiplomatic claptrap that spewed out of the mouth of presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and spending hours with my jaw on the floor watching the opening ceremony (yes, I was in the UK at the time) has served to completely change my stance and I now can’t get enough of it.
I spent the first Sunday of the games at Heathrow waiting for my delayed flight back to the US, but wasn’t bothered in the least because I had a prime seat in front of a departure lounge TV and was glued to the women’s cycling road race, followed by the synchronised diving.
But now all I’ve got is America’s NBC coverage, which as you’d expect has a top-heavy US focus. That’s fine if you’re American, but much as I love the place and the friends we’ve made here, I’m not.
And even then, NBC isn’t giving a full-on service. The corporation paid 750 million dollars for exclusive US rights to the Olympics – and then refused to show a live broadcast of the opening ceremony, delaying it for more than three hours on the east coast and over six hours on the west so they could show it in prime time. Something to do with capitalising on advertising income.
And the internet is proving to be worse than useless. Because I’m out of the country I can’t log in to BBC iPlayer because of some ridiculous broadcasting rights rules that mean when I log on to the internet my IP address has to be coming out of the UK.
I can’t check my National Lottery winnings either. I’ve had an email saying the lottery lot have news about my Euromillions ticket, their euphemism for telling you you’ve won something (I know, I know it’s probably only a tenner but you never know do you?) but I can’t log in and find out if I’m a Euro millionaire until I come home. Which isn’t for a while yet, so that means my tenterhooks are well and truly hooked.
For the same rule applies with lottery organisers Camelot as it does with the BBC – unless they can see you’re in the UK your full internet access is barred.
Oh, I can go on to the BBC website and see a minute-by-minute written rolling record of what’s going on, but it’s hardly the same, is it?
And I can get breaking news alerts in my online mailbox to tell me whether a Brit has won a medal or not, but then I struggle to find coverage of the action.
I can now also listen to Olympic coverage online through BBC Radio 4’s Today programme and Radio Two’s Chris Evans breakfast show after the Beeb struck a belated deal with the International Olympic Committee.
If you cough up around a hundred quid you can subscribe for a year to a proxy internet provider that makes the likes of the BBC think you’re logging on online from inside the UK, and many expats do that.
But if you’re away from home on a temporary basis it’s hard to find a proxy provider for short- term subscriptions, cutting off access to the action for millions of Brits abroad who want to follow in detail the activities of Team GB.
Remember at the opening ceremony where the words “this is for everyone” flashed round the Olympic stadium in a tribute to internet inventor Sir Tim Berners-Lee?
Well, for seven million Brits overseas it clearly isn’t.