The One Big Problem With Unmetered Netflix Access In Australia

Netflix’s announcement today of its March 24 launch date in Australia also confirmed that several Internet service providers (ISPs) will offer it unmetered, meaning binge watching hours of programming won’t eat into your monthly data allowance. While that’s good news, there is one catch to bear in mind.

Picture: Getty Images/Kevin Winter

iiNet (including its subsidiaries Internode, Westnet and Adam) and Optus have both confirmed that anyone viewing Netflix content using their fixed broadband services won’t have that data counted against their monthly allowance. It’s possible other ISPs will follow suit (though we’d be surprised if Telstra, which has its own content ambitions, is amongst them). While both ISPs offer Fetch TV, the unmetered aspect isn’t Fetch-dependent; for iiNet, regular broadband, naked DSL and NBN connections will all qualify.

There is an important consideration here, however. That unmetered access will only work if you’re accessing Netflix Australia. If you’re using a VPN (or other similar tactics) to view Netflix US, the downloads will still count against your total. Services like iiNet’s Freezone rely on you using the default settings provided by the ISP, not tweaking them to access overseas.

Netflix likes to pretend that very few people are using VPNs for access and that it can’t identify the ones that are. Less partisan estimates place the potential number of customers doing that at between 200,000 and 300,000.

If you’re one of those customers, you now face an interesting choice. Using a US Netflix account will almost certainly give you a broader range of shows. There are exceptions — Mythbusters is on Australian Netflix but not on the US, for instance — but the general expectation is that the US service will be larger, since many content providers have restrictive deals in Australia. We won’t know for sure until launch date. However, if you stick with the American service and happen to be an iiNet/Optus/Internode/Westnet/Adam customer, you’ll be using up data that might be better deployed in other ways.

The best solution for those customers? Switch between the services. While Netflix doesn’t heavily publicise the fact, an active account will work anywhere in the world. If you’re paying for a US Netflix service but your IP address suggests you’re Australian, you’ll be able to access the Australian unmetered content when your VPN is switched off. Similarly, if you’re an Aussie and sign in while visiting the US, you’ll see different shows.

So if a show is available on the Australian version, use that. If the show is US-only, switch on the VPN. You’ll get a wider choice, and more data to use elsewhere.

I don’t expect that most existing US Netflix customers in Australia will decide to change plans solely to get unmetered access — they’ve been willingly chewing through data until now anyway. But it is an issue to consider if you are already signed up.

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