NBC has absolutely botched the coverage of the Olympics. As much as it’s possible to achieve universal agreement on anything, it seems that tape-delayed coverage and the inclusion of Ryan Seacrest have combined to accomplish the impossible. Unfortunately, for law abiding Americans who choose not to or are not aware of how to view illegal online streaming coverage, there would seem to be few other options for enjoying the once-every-four-years spectacle.

Fortunately, AnchorFree, maker of the popular traveler’s VPN (Virtual Private Network) HotSpot Shield, offers another solution. The company’s little discussed niche VPN product Expat Shield gives users a UK-based IP address: BOOM, live streaming BBC coverage of the Olympics in all its suspense-filled, NBC-free glory.

According to the company, “Both Hotspot Shield and Expat Shield work by establishing a secure tunnel between a user’s computer and Internet connection, encrypting entire Web sessions to keep the users protected. When users connect to Expat Shield, it assigns them a UK IP address. As a result, all Web sessions take place as they would in the UK.”

The legality of viewing broadcast TV content while abroad is a grey area at best. From the company’s perspective, it is entirely clear with its users about the proper and improper use of its product. How they ultimately elect to use it, is beyond the company’s control.

Given the above, Expat Shield is not entirely unknown to those looking to view the Olympics abroad, as the product has seen an enormous spike in usage around the Games. Comparing usage five days before the start of the Olympics to the fifth day of coverage, ExpatShield’s total installed user base grew by 212 percent worldwide and an astounding 1,894 percent in the US. Usage during the same period grew by 23 percent worldwide and 262 percent in the US.

In the past, Expat Shield has been used by revolutionaries in Egypt, protestors in China, Brits who want their BBC programming abroad, and even those in country who want to view blocked websites (Facebook, etc.) while at work. The identities of all AnchorFree user are kept anonymous and the company doesn’t retain any user information, making it an ideal tool for illicit or high risk web browsing. Further, those looking to shop US and UK commerce sites often find access restricted to international IP addresses and use solutions like Expat Shield to circumvent this situation.

Best of all, Expat Shield is an entirely free product, although it is regrettably only available on Windows PCs (Windows 7, Vista, and XP).

Cheers mates, happy Web surfing.