I have been a Canadian Netflix subscriber for five years. Or, about as long as they have been in Canada. One of the things I learned is how limited their content is, compared to American customers who, historically have been paying the same monthly charge as Canadians (Netflix charges their Canadian customers in Canadian dollars, which currently valued lower than the American dollar, but for the past five years has been nearly at par or even higher than the U.S. dollar). Yet Canadian Netflix content is about half that of its American titles.
Like millions of other Canadian Netflix subscribers, I added on a service called Unblock-us (www.unblock-us.com). To access that American content. For that, I paid an extra US$50 per year. Unblock-us, and companies like it, made available to Canadians services Americans take for granted: Amazon Video, Hulu, and even many YouTube videos which are restricted from being viewed outside the U.S. (Comedy Central clips, for example). These VPN “unblockers” have been popular with on-line consumers around the world, not just in Canada. While Netflix has been publicly opposed to unauthorized viewers of its American-only content, it has been privately permissive. Until Last month, that is. Netflix announced it would be cracking down on verboten viewers such as myself “within the coming weeks.” And in my case, last night, Netflix followed through on its threat.
When the original Netflix announcement was made, my wife and I decided, as a matter of principle, we would pull the plug on Netflix. We both despise being taken for granted as paying customers. By any company. So, last night as I was attempting to watch a forbidden American title (an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as I recall) a message popped up: “You appear to be using an unblocker or VPN service. Please log back-in on a standard connection.” Or something to that affect. In short, I was caught out.
So I called Netflix. My call was answered in a minute. Gotta give them credit for that. And my call was answered by an American. Give them credit for that, too (you folks over there in Bangalore and Manilla, you just can’t quite pull it off with those fake American accents. ). The man answered. As usual, when you call Netflix, the people who answer sound like they are on drugs and having a good time. Nothing wrong with that. “Hi! Welcome to Netflix. My name is Miles. Who do I have the awesome pleasure of speaking with this evening?” I didn’t answer his question, I got right to the point. “I want to cancel my account.”
Miles replied, “Oh, I’m sorry to hear that.” Of course, he said “sorry” like a damned Canadian. After my having supplied all the pertinent details to identify myself and discouraging his attempts to get into chit-chat (at one point, I said, “Can we get this done?”) he finally asked why I was cancelling. Programming? Just not interested? I simply replied, “Unblock us. Canada.” He simply said, “Oh…”
Netflix was one of the few remaining American technology accounts in my life that I paid for. Like many people around the world, after Snowden I started disassociating myself with U.S. tech. I cut off my toll-free fax internet fax service. I stopped using Microsoft’s cloud service in favor of a Swiss outfit. I also started using a Switzerland-based e-mail service (www.Swissmail.org). Other than this WordPress account, Netflix was pretty much all that was left. And now, that’s gone.
Countries such as Russia, China, Brazil and even Saudi Arabia are weaning themselves off of The Dollar. The rest of the world doesn’t want U.S. agriculture because of Monsanto. Russia has declared U.S. “food” imports unsafe for human consumption. Growth hormones found in American milk are forbidden elsewhere. However, the rest of the world does want Hollywood (“Hollywood” of course, meaning London. Or Auckland. Or Sydney. Vancouver. Toronto, and everywhere else Hollywood movies are made. Except Hollywood, it seems). And we were willing to go to extraordinary lengths to access it. But Hollywood has made it clear, by pressuring Netflix, that it doesn’t want us.
The irony, in my case, is that my home is right smack dab on the border in Niagara Falls, Ontario. I can see the Robert Moses Parkway outside my window. I can hear the trains blowing their horns. I can hear the fire engines and the police cars (lots of police cars; Niagara Falls, N.Y. is a very exciting place). And, just to be fair, the good people of Niagara Falls, N.Y. can hear our tourist helicopters as they transport a tiny fraction of the millions of people visiting Niagara Falls, Ontario every year. But I’m just not close enough for Netflix.
No city in the United States has suffered more from the U.S. government’s “post-nine-eleven” hostility to foreigners than Niagara Falls, New York. The city resembles a small version of Detroit. Block after block of burnt-out, dilapidated and otherwise abandoned houses, commercial buildings and vacant lots. Rampant petty crime. Niagara Falls police officers carry storm window plastic and duct tape with them to get car owners whose windows have been smashed back home. The former Rainbow Centre Mall, located at the U.S. end of the Rainbow Bridge, has been vacant for a decade. There is a small pocket of retail (Niagara Factory Outlets, Wal-Mart, Wegmans) but that is in the Town of Niagara, not the city itself. And it is miles from the border. With the currency and oil price wars pushing the Canadian dollar down to punishing depths, the Delta Sonic gas station on Niagara Falls Boulevard, which used to be backed up on to the street with Ontario-plated cars waiting to enter, is now deserted. It will be interesting to see how long the Walden Galleria Mall in suburban Buffalo can hold out. Like many business in western New York, it flies a Canadian flag at the entrance to its property along with the U.S. flag, so that gives you some indication of how valued Canadian customers are to its business.
Niagara Falls isn’t the only American city being shunned by visitors. Hoteliers in Las Vegas have been practically giving their rooms away for years now. Michael Rivero of WhatReallyHappened (www.whatreallyhappened.com) regularly reports on his program that tourism has been on the decline in his home state of Hawaii for years, as well. Rivero refers to the TSA as the “Tourism Suppression Agency.”
And now, the U.S government, and even industry itself, wants to do to America what is has done to Niagara Falls.
One might ask, what were those forbidden American titles my foreign eyes were viewing without authorization? Well, I used to watch old sixties and seventies programs like Dragnet, Adam-12, Emergency. Netflix never carried Green Acres or ChiPS, so that was kind of a shame (yeah, I know Estrada was corny and silly, but the show was still fun to watch). I used to watch the original Star Trek series. I watched spin-offs Deep Space Nine, Voyager, the ill-fated Enterprise. I can still access (provided I remained a paying subscriber) Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X-Files.
The upside of ditching Netflix is I can now call my local cable company, the moribund and pathetic Cogeco Cable, and downgrade my internet service since I won’t need that super premium unlimited package any longer. That ought to save me $20 or $30 a month. And during my “weekend” (Thursdays and Fridays) I can catch up on Ron Gibson’s WhatReallyHappened video podcasts on YouTube.
The simple fact is, I don’t need you, Netflix. And I don’t need you, either, Hollywood. I don’t watch television (other than the aforementioned Netflix “re-runs”). In fact, you’ve been an extension of BDS for years now. Apple sales are in decline. Microsoft and Google are in panic mode because they are seen as agents of the N.S.A.
You don’t want my money, Hollywood? Fine. I’ll keep it.
As for Unblock-us, thank you for years of great service. I know you did your best. But when you get down to it, Netflix just didn’t want our business and was willing to fight to the mat to make sure you didn’t give it to them for us.