nternet service providers (ISPs) could be ordered to block specified online gambling websites competing with provincial gambling interests, raising questions about Web neutrality, the newspaper points out.
“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 [operator of the government’s online gambling venture],” the government said in its economic plan.
The relevant section of the budget plan claims that despite the launch of Espacejeux by Loto-Quebec, “the number of illegal sites has not decreased and Quebecers continue to visit them in large numbers.”
The action is justified by government claims that the level of the competitors’ responsible gaming measures is lower than that of Espacejeux, and these sites therefore pose a risk to the population “especially young people.”
The government’s plan has already attracted criticism; Law Professor Michael Geist at the University of Ottawa observed:
“This is a remarkable and possibly illegal plan as the government seeks to censor the Internet for its own commercial gain.”
“The plan would likely face a legal challenge, both on free speech and jurisdictional grounds, since the telecommunications regulations fall within federal jurisdiction,” he added, noting that the Quebec government would likely respond that the provinces have jurisdiction over gambling and consumer protection.
Geist pointed out that ISP blocking was extremely rare in Canada, and observed that online gambling sites are not illegal to view; consequently to legislate ISP blocking for commercial gain sets a dangerous precedent.
Bram Ambramson, a senior legal executive for independent ISP TekSavvy Solutions Inc., told the Globe and Mail that his company’s approach to providing Internet service has been to treat it as a neutral function, and the measures in the Quebec budget would “break that model.”
“ISPs are intermediaries and we do what we do best when we act a little bit like utilities: We provide access to the Internet. We should not be put in a position of picking and choosing what people have access to,” he said. “We would want the government to think very very carefully before taking this unprecedented move, which I have no doubt would be treated with great trepidation by consumers and by everyone who’s interested in the free flow of information.”
The Quebec budget also contains a recommendation that the government study the possibility of “levying a tax on residential Internet services in order to support the cultural sector.”