Canada Telecom Regulator Continues to Say ISP Online Gambling Ban Won’t Fly
Canada’s telecommunications regulator continued to stand firm against the possibility of an internet service provider-directed ban on online gambling sites Friday, reiterating that it has the final say on what websites – if any – can be blocked.
In May, the Québec legislature passed Bill 74, the budget bill. Among everything else that would be of little interest to us was one law that would require ISP’s to block all unlicensed internet gambling sites. As we wrote previously, this goes beyond just declaring online gambling illegal; it is actually internet censorship, as the provincial government is straight-up saying what sites Québec residents are even allowed to see. On top of that, it is requiring the ISPs to be the internet police.
Québec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao claimed that the reason for the law was to protect the “health and safety” of Québec residents – you know, the usual claptrap – but it seems to most anyone who isn’t anti-gambling that it is really just a way to protect the government-run internet gaming monopoly. The Québec lottery commission, Loto-Québec, operates the lone licensed gaming site in the province, Espacejeux.
If one thinks gambling proponents are just reading too much into things, note that Bill 74 actually says that an ISP ban on internet gambling sites would actually benefit the provincial government to the tune of $13.5 million for the 2016-2017 fiscal year and $27 million per year after that.
In September, the aforementioned federal telecom regulator, the Canadian Radio-Television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), said that the ban violates the federal Telecommunications Act, which reads, in part, “Except where the Commission approves otherwise, a Canadian carrier shall not control the content or influence the meaning or purpose of telecommunications carried by it for the public.”
The CRTC even said it won’t even be particularly moved if the law in Bill 74 is deemed constitutional, saying, “The Commission is exclusively responsible for the administration of this provision and will remain so, regardless of any finding with respect to the constitutionality of section 12 of Bill 74.”
Consistent with the above, the Commission is of the preliminary view that the Act prohibits the blocking by Canadian carriers of access by end-users to specific websites on the Internet, whether or not this blocking is the result of an ITMP (Internet Traffic Management Practices). Consequently, any such blocking is unlawful without prior Commission approval, which would only be given where it would further the telecommunications policy objectives. Accordingly, compliance with other legal or juridical requirements—whether municipal, provincial, or foreign—does not in and of itself justify the blocking of specific websites by Canadian carriers, in the absence of Commission approval under the Act.
In July, a charity called the Public Interest Advocacy Centre (PIAC) filed an application with the CRTC, objecting to Bill 74 and asking the Commission to declare the law unconstitutional. PIAC also feared that an ISP-forced ban would result in all sorts of new expenses for the ISPs, saying, “All expense, all testing, all staff that may be unnecessary should this law be declared unconstitutional or be repealed will inevitably be paid for by customer rate increases and possibly in reduction in other services or reduction in network performance.”
The CRTC’s reiteration of its stance on Bill 74 came in conjunction with an announcement that it will pause any action on PIAC’s filing until a lawsuit in opposition to the legislation by the Canadian Wireless Telecommunications Association comes to a conclusion in Québec Superior Court.
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