As Bell develops plans to apply to the CRTC to create a website blocking agency, it is also working to create a coalition of supportive companies. The initial Canadaland report noted that the coalition could include Rogers, Cineplex, and Cinema Guzzo. Rogers has since indicated that it is still considering whether to join the coalition. As I note in my post today on the submissions to the CRTC’s consultation on broadcasting, Shaw is now also making the case for website blocking, devoting several pages to supporting it. Unlike Bell, however, it does not reference a specific agency mandated to support blocking, focusing instead on court-ordered blocking.
The Shaw submission seeks to equate access to grey market satellite services with unauthorized streaming services. It acknowledges that Canadian copyright law already addresses Internet piracy and that court orders can be obtained to shut down services that violate the law. It argues, however, that even with a court order, the CRTC must still approve website blocking. Unlike Bell, which envisions a website blocking system without court review, Shaw is focused on granting approvals for blocking with court oversight:
Shaw submits that the CRTC should consider using its authority under section 36 to approve court orders for ISPs to block access to online services infringing Canadian copyright law. While the Telecommunications Act’s objectives articulated in section 7 do not refer directly to the promotion or protection of a Canadian rights market, there is a clear case that blocking access to illegal streaming services responds to the “economic and social requirements of user of telecommunication services”, in furtherance of paragraph 7(e).
It will be interesting to see if Shaw joins Bell’s coalition, since its support of website blocking appears contingent on a court order.
As the carriers line up in support of some form of website blocking, the issue is already sparking a political backlash. Yesterday in the House of Commons, Conservative MP Matt Jeneroux raised the issue during Question Period:
Mr. Matt Jeneroux (Edmonton Riverbend, CPC): Mr. Speaker, Bell and several other media conglomerates have announced a proposal to create a mandatory blocking system for websites that they have arbitrarily determined are inappropriate. However, the blocking process would take place with little to no oversight by our courts. This plan has Internet and net-neutrality experts concerned. Will the government let these multi-billion dollar companies control Canadians’ Internet access?
Mr. David Lametti (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, as our minister has made very clear, we support the principle of net neutrality, where Canadians have access to the content of their choice in accordance with Canadian laws. I can assure my hon. colleague and friend that net neutrality is the critical issue of our times, much like freedom of the press and freedom of expression that came before it. That is why our government will continue to support a strong net-neutrality framework through the CRTC.
While it is encouraging that the government is defending net neutrality, the prospect of website blocking extends beyond just the issues of net neutrality into freedom of expression and other fundamental rights. With the carriers apparently lining up to support blocking, this is shaping up to be one of the defining digital rights issues of the coming year.