TV, Movies and VPNs in Panama

At the Movies

At the Movies
ClipArt courtesy of Microsoft ClipArt

There are not too many options for tableños (people who live in Las Tablas) wanting to see a movie.  The closest theatre is in Chitre, about a forty minute drive.  If you want to stay home, your options are in-home.  Television here offers a number of stations – more, of course, if you have a premium account.  But the stations that offer movies in English are limited, and the stations with live programming in English even more so.

Netflix has a presence in Panama now.  You can subscribe for the usual $7.99 per month and gain access that way.  You will find a nice variety of the usual sorts of Netflix offerings, all with Spanish subtitles.  And you will also find a nice selection of movies in Spanish, so you can accelerate your listening skills.  Unfortunately your subtitle choices for these will often be either French or Portuguese.  Nor will you find all the movies listed that you have been used to seeing.  International trading agreements get in the way.

But… you can raise the level of choices very easily.  A VPN, the almost magical Virtual Private Network, will do the job.  VPNs initially became popular with laptop users needing electronic privacy in public wifi hotspots such as MacDonalds because they prevent electronic snooping.  Travelers have discovered that a VPN allows you to sort of stay home electronically, so you can still obtain the services you are used to having.  In other words, you have access to your accustomed stuff on Netflix.  And it’s all perfectly legal. (As far as I know.)

Some major changes seem to have recently occurred in Panama’s electronic red (network). I’m not privy to exactly what is going on, but it smells political, and the main referring server in and out of here seems to no longer be in San Jose, Costa Rica, but somewhere in Columbia.  Half the time when I try to connect to Netflix, I am rerouted to Yahoo Search, where it is suggested that I might like to try the full Yahoo experience.  If I shut down the browser and reload it a few times, I usually wind up on Netflix, but in spite of the fact that I’m trying to acquire greater patience, who needs that kind of aggravation?

I have also lately been told by travelers that logging into their email accounts can be difficult.  My own browser tells me far too often that it can’t find the server at such and such a place, even though I go there six or seven times a week.

What to do?  Get a VPN.  A VPN (Virtual Private Network) was developed for the benefit of  corporate workers and students who needed remote access to their respective business or educational networks.  It allowed them secure, private access.  Often they involved a gismo to dangle off your key chain that changed the access code every few seconds.

Later, VPNs became popular with just plain folks who wanted privacy from electronic snooping, and with globetrotters wanting to stay in touch with home programming, which often does not travel nearly as well as the citizenry because of various sorts of international laws.

Nowadays, VPN accounts are thick on the ground and both simple and easy to acquire and operate.  You need do little more than register and pay.  There are even free VPN accounts for people who don’t mind ads.  Heck, you can even build your own.

Alan Henry has written an excellent article about VPNs which sets out the basics for beginners:  Why You Should Start Using a VPN and How to Choose the Best One for Your Needs.   If you want to understand more about the technical aspects, check out this little article on How Stuff Works for an easily understood analogy.  Keep reading to get into the technical meat.

If you have a smartphone, you especially might want to get a VPN for it.  As a new smart-phoner, I am realizing just how vulnerable this makes me, and am hot-footing to cover.  I now have VPN coverage on everything that will accept it, including my phone.  Better safe than sorry.  Not to mention that my internet experience, compared to what it was struggling with the Columbian server a few days ago, has improved significantly.