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Listening to Test matches abroad
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I became very frustrated by the BBC’s refusal to allow people to get Internet cricket coverage abroad. I am sure I am not alone and this article will help get round the problem.

For some time now, Internet Test Match Special commentary has been restricted to UK broadband users only. Initially this applied only when our team was touring other countries, but since 2014 this restriction has been applied to home series too. If you’re outside the UK and you try to listen to the cricket the BBC Player will either sit on “loading” without getting anywhere or, more commonly, you get a constantly repeating recording of comments about football, interspersed by annoying jingles and a female voice smugly telling you that the coverage is restricted due to “rights issues”. I can accept the argument that UK licence payers can’t be expected to pay for entertaining people living abroad as a general principle, But in this case, how much of a problem is that likely to be? Will there be millions of Americans, Europeans and Japanese tuning in to get the latest score? Since most countries don’t give a monkey’s about cricket it’s hardly likely. The people most likely to be affected are English expats like me who have paid the licence fee for at least some of their lives. I first encountered this problem when I lived mostly in Prague for five years before moving here permanently. I still paid the licence fee during that time, even though I didn’t watch a single BBC TV programme, so I strongly resented the fact that I couldn’t listen to the cricket.

What actually happens is that the BBC website recognises your IP address and blocks it if that IP address comes from a country other than the UK. Your IP address is determined by your internet service provider so if, say, you live in Hungary the IP address will identify this.

The way round this is to use a proxy server. What happens is that instead of connecting directly to a web site, you connect to another server, which does this for you. It’s like making a deal through an intermediary rather than directly. You need to find a proxy server in the UK, and once you’ve set your computer correctly what will happen is that when you click on the TMS audio link, the BBC site will see a UK IP address and let you through. So how do you do this?

Method 1: A palaver but free

You can do an internet search for UK proxy servers and there is plenty of information available. I would recommend this link: http://www.xroxy.com/proxy-country-GB.htm


Then do the following (this is for Internet Explorer):

  • Click on the Tools menu and select Internet Options
  • Click on the Connections tab
  • Click on the LAN Settings button
  • Check the option to use a proxy server and the greyed-out spaces for address and port will light up
  • Enter the IP address of the proxy server and the port it requires
  • Click OK to close the LAN Settings dialogue box
  • Click OK to close the Internet Options dialogue box
  • Try connecting to the commentary and you should be able to listen to the cricket.

 

proxy.JPG


This may seem like an ideal solution to an annoying problem for cricket lovers living outside the UK, but it’s only fair to set out the disadvantages of using a proxy server. Generally speaking these servers appear to be rather unreliable in that connection speeds are slow and that one that works well one day may not work at all the next. In fact since I wrote the first version of this piece, I would say that fewer and fewer of the proxy servers listed on the net have any functionality at all. You may get lucky, and find a connection that offers a fluent audio stream without annoying buffering breaks every fifteen seconds, but be prepared for a lot of frustration.

The decline in available proxy servers is baffling, but I’ve found enough evidence from like-minded cricket nuts to suggest that the BBC deny access to proxy servers as they find them. No doubt this involves paying the techies a substantial amount for their time – nice to know that the licence fee is being so usefully spent! 

Even if you are lucky enough to get a proxy server to work, be aware that there is a potential security issue here in that you are routing the flow of data from the Internet to your computer via a third party about which you know very little. If you’re just listening to the cricket there’s no risk involved, but I strongly suggest you revert to normal browsing for things like online banking. All you have to do is uncheck the proxy option, and the proxy IP address and port will be saved but greyed out. You can always re-check the option and use the proxy again when the next match starts.

Method 2: Much more efficient but you have to pay

You can get programs that hide or disguise your IP address for you. Basically, the program routes your internet connection via a proxy server in a country of your choice. These proxy servers are much more reliable as you pay a subscription for them and they are therefore well-maintained. The program I use is called Hide IP and here’s the link. The program itself is free and you pay a reasonably priced subscription for the service.

I’ve used it extensively with Internet Explorer and unlike the free proxies, the connection is reliable and fast enough to provide a continuous audio stream. Hide IP also works with Firefox and apparently with Chrome, though I have not used the latter.

I am generally very happy with the program, though I can’t pretend that it’s not rather creaky. Some of the UK IP addresses on offer either don’t work at all or do work but don’t fool the BBC site (the latter may be down to the BBC hunting down proxy IPs rather than a fault with the program). There is always at least one UK IP that does get you through, however, and problem IPs do eventually get repaired or removed. You may have to be selective in which of the UK IPs you use, though despite this reservation I still recommend the program. A few minutes of fiddling around is a small price to pay for being able to listen to a five day Test match.

A tip for those who do get this program: if you have tried to connect to the cricket using your non-UK IP address, you will probably need to clear out your cookies and temporary Internet files before you can get the cricket using Hide IP’s UK proxy.

There are, of course, some people who use proxy servers to mask their identity for more sinister reasons. I neither condone, nor take responsibility for, the use of a proxy server to secure anonymity for mindless or criminal behaviour. I wrote this article simply to help those like myself who are frustrated by being unable to get hold of TMS while abroad. Enjoy the cricket and good luck to our team!

PS This piece was written in the late noughties when the broadcasting restrictions for TMS came into being. I’ve updated it several times since then, including removing a rant about the BBC’s decline in quality and blatant left-wing bias. After all, expats desperate to find a way to listen to Test matches abroad are unlikely to want to wade through a polemic. I stand by what I said, though – especially about bias. You don’t have to take my word for it: Peter Sissons, a long-serving BBC presenter, said the same, as did Mark Thompson, and he ran the BBC. Recently I found a cricket blog where the blogger, who had read an earlier version of this page, poured scorn on my assertions of bias with that kind of leaden sarcasm which some people think passes for rational argument. It turns out that the blogger is a card-carrying leftie, so that’s vindication on a plate!