Reports today indicate that Telus is currently blocking access to Voices for Change, a website run by the Telecommunications Workers Union. The company has confirmed that its nearly one million subscribers are blocked from accessing the site, though it is obviously available to just about everyone else (and presumably to Telus subscribers that engage in some creative Internet surfing). The company argues that the site contains confidential proprietary information and that photographs on the site raise privacy and security issues for certain of its employees.
I can’t comment on the contents of the site. Unless the site features content that is unlawful (as found by a Canadian court), however, Telus should not be coming anywhere near blocking access. Internet service providers have long argued (Telus being among the most vocal) that they should be treated much like common carriers with no discrimination or distinction between the bits transferred on their networks. I’ve previously argued that packet preferencing for VoIP is a growing concern. Content specific blocking is an entirely different and even more troubling matter. ISPs have persuaded the Supreme Court of Canada, Canadian policy makers, and government officials that the content blocking, whether copyright or child pornography related, is out of their control and bad policy.
To block a specific website that leaves the company uncomfortable is more than just bad policy as well as completely ineffective. It is dangerous. Dangerous for free speech in this country, dangerous for those who believe that the law, not private parties, should determine what remains accessible on ISP networks, and dangerous for the ISPs themselves, who risk seeing this blow up in their face as part of the ongoing telecommunications policy review that is considering the appropriate regulatory framework for those same ISPs.