Blogs & Comment

Consumers and ISPs push back at Quebec’s online gambling ban

Consumer groups and internet service providers—often at odds—are united against a bill that would require ISPs to police users’ gambling

Mobile phone app with online poker

(Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty)

Quebec’s effort to block gambling websites is meeting some stiff resistance, with the Public Interest Advocacy Centre taking the fight to the CRTC.

In its complaint, the Ottawa-based consumer advocacy group says the blocking—approved by Quebec’s National Assembly in May—is an unconstitutional threat to Internet freedom, and beyond the province’s jurisdiction in any case.

The ban, when it eventually takes effect, is also likely to incur filtering costs for Internet providers, who would inevitably pass them on to subscribers.

“This is important not just as a legal matter because it could impact how complex and costly it is to run an ISP—which would drive up already high prices for consumers—but also impact the openness of the internet,” Geoff White, external counsel for PIAC, told the Globe and Mail.

Quebec’s plan to block gambling sites is one of those rare issues that’s uniting PIAC and telecom companies. Bell, Rogers, Telus and others are also critical of the effort, saying it will be difficult and costly to implement.

The arguments are similar to those made in the United Kingdom a few years ago in the debate over whether or not ISPs should be made to block sites featuring pornography. The industry lost that debate despite the European Union ruling that it would be illegal, and internet providers are now turning the filters on.

The situation is somewhat different, however; pornography is not outright blocked in Britain; Subscribers who still wish to access such content can opt out of the filters. The ban on gambling sites would be in effect across the board in Quebec.

(Critics argued the British scheme is in some ways worse, since U.K. ISPs must now keep ready-made lists of porn consumers, which will inevitably be leaked and used maliciously.)

In dealing with PIAC’s complaint, the CRTC would do well to pay attention. British politicians aren’t exactly known as paragons of good decision-making right now, so Canadian regulators and the federal government may want to do the opposite of anything that’s happening over there.