For governments accustomed to wielding their power to regulate local activity, the Internet has long been a source of frustration. From music sites to Uber to AirBNB, online services represent an enormous challenge to conventional government regulation, which typically relies on a jurisdictional hook to compel compliance.
While most reputable global companies can ill-afford to simply ignore laws or court orders, there are still websites that operate largely beyond the reach of government regulation. In response, some governments have attempted to regulate online behaviour, ordering Internet providers to block access to offending websites.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) notes that Canadians have generally been spared website blocking initiatives due in part to the Telecommunications Act, which prohibits carriers from controlling “the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.” That rule means that Internet providers are effectively prohibited from unilaterally blocking content.
But what if a Canadian government ordered Internet providers to do so?
The federal government has refrained from mandating blocking (the closest it has come has been supporting a private sector initiative to stop access to child pornography images), but earlier this year the Government of Quebec announced plans in its budget to require Internet providers to block access to online gambling sites. The list of blocked sites will be developed by Loto-Québec, a government agency.
The budget states:
A legislative amendment will be proposed to introduce an illegal website filtering measure. In accordance with this measure, Internet service providers will not be allowed to provide access to an online gaming and gambling website whose name is on a list of websites that are to be blocked, drawn up by Loto-Québec.
The government apparently views this initiative as a revenue enhancing measure because it wants to direct gamblers to its own Espacejeux, the Loto-Québec run online gaming site. A November 2014 report found that Espacejeux was not meeting revenue targets since people were using other sites. The government believes that the website blocking will increase government revenues by $13.5 million in 2016-17 and $27 million per year thereafter.
The Quebec decision is particularly surprising given recent recommendations from its own working group on online gambling. It studied the state of online gambling in the province and concluded that the best approach was not to block access to other sites, but rather to invite them all into the market. The key recommendation:
the Working Group believes that in order to control the online gambling market, protect consumers and generate revenues for the government, the best solution for the government is to establish clear rules and open up the online gambling market to private operators. In fact, the best solution is to establish an online gambling licensing system.
Rather than opening the market though, Quebec is instead seeking to censor the Internet for its own commercial gain by ordering Internet providers to block access to any unregulated sites. The plan is likely face a legal challenge, both on free speech and jurisdictional grounds, since the federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over telecommunications regulation.
Since the announcement in April, there has been surprisingly little public commentary about the Quebec plan. Quebec-based Internet providers may have privately raised concerns, but consumer groups have remained largely silent. That needs to change, since Quebec’s plan to block access to gambling sites could easily expand to other areas.
Once blocking Internet content is established, it is easy to envision governments moving down a slippery slope, requiring the blocking of sites that are alleged to infringe copyright or blocking e-commerce sites that are not bilingual or do not pay provincial taxes. If that happened, the open Internet in Canada would be placed at risk of unprecedented government intervention into how Internet providers manage their networks and what sites Canadians are able to access.
A slippery slope indeed. Creating censorship rules in order to gain a commercial monopoly is bogus. They want people to continue using their gambling sites? Make them better. Competition is a driving force for making better products.
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“Since the announcement in April, there has been surprisingly little public commentary about the Quebec plan.”
This is the first I hear about it, and I got here via Slashdot.org which is a U.S.A. website. Only a handful of companies control all the media in Canada, that’s way too much power given to a very few people.
Same for me, I leave in Québec, never heard of that before slashdot news.
Ps: Homer, I’ve completed your name.
Attempts to block websites are easily circumvented, but methods of preventing payments exist and are already in use — credit card companies have maintained “blacklists” of sites they refuse payments too (sometimes by error) for years.
Why do the greedy and stupid insist on destroying something that was designed to be open and free…
We, at Union des consommateurs, pretty much agree with the content of this article. Quebec’s “plan”, as you call it, is problematic on many ways: it not of provincial jurisdiction to regulate Internet content, and neither is it respectful of the net neutrality principles all democracy should strive to defend. Thankfully the CRTC has intervened on this matter recently, in light of doubtful practices in the mobile Internet area.
If “consumer groups have remained largely silent” on the question, it should not be interpreted, of course, as an approval of this outrageous idea ̶ attacking net neutrality to benefit a monopolistic gambling industry. If this plan should ever be considered seriously and shaped into a new legislation by Quebec’s government, we’ll sure try to have our voices heard loud and clear. But: there is no bill on this matter, just an absurd idea.
So: why our silence ? Consumer groups are, as so many other community organizations, struggling with funding issues. We are invited to intervene and take position on many issues that impact consumers, but rarely get the appropriate (or any) funding to do so. Sadly, we have to choose wisely how to allocate our resources, and we had other fights to lead when this news came out. I would very much like to tell you we stand to protect consumers in every matters relevant to their interests, but the day-to-day reality is sadly, much more complicated.
Good thing some other watchdogs are there to point out the vicious attacks envisioned by our leaders.
All the best,
Telecom analyst for Union des consommateurs.
The Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) also stands opposed to this proposed legislation and views the matter solely as federal jurisdiction and a matter that CRTC has specific legislation to regulate (s. 36 of the Telecommunications Act) which it has always applied very rigourously to try to avoid net censorship. Like UC, we are following the issue and will react if and when legislation is brought forth, however, our ability to proactively lobby and undertake public media campaigns is limited. Thank you for raising the issue.
I saw it in some East countries too. Here is some information http://www.dumblittleman.com/2015/04/14-problems-freelancers-usually-face.html
Gambling-The sure way of getting something for nothing.For more visit…. http://goo.gl/TX8GNf