Should a government body attempt to block websites for its own financial gain? [To anyone that answered “Yes,” I say, “Really?”] This question doesn’t seem to be troubling Quebec’s government, which submitted a budget that contained the following — all without uttering a single word like “conflict” or “interest.”
In its budget released Thursday, the province said it plans to propose new legislation that would compel Internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to a list of gambling websites drawn up by Loto-Québec.
Loto-Québec, of course, is the province’s own revenue stream, which allows citizens to contribute extra funds to their government via games of skill. Great stuff for those who enjoy this more voluntary form of taxation, but the internet is full of other options. And that fact makes Loto-Québec very sad. But the government is always willing to cheer itself up!
The government states its aim is to direct revenues to its own gambling website, Espacejeux, noting Loto-Québec’s revenues have fallen in recent years and stating, “it is only the online gaming market that has growth prospects.”
So, it’s hoping to double its money by doubling down on blocking “illegal gambling websites.” It cheerfully estimates that — if it can just get hesitant ISPs on board — its gambling revenues will generate $13.5 million in 2016-17 and $27 million a year after that, apparently in perpetuity.
Now, there are a lot of fallacies in play here, not the least of which is that budgeted income will always meet planned figures forever — a conclusion made while operating in a vacuum devoid of external circumstances, perverted incentives or the foibles of the public. But it has to get ISPs to agree to enforce Loto-Quebéc’s blacklist first, and so far, ISPs aren’t expressing any desire to force their customers into a government-created gambling funnel.
Bram Abramson, chief legal and regulatory officer for independent ISP TekSavvy Solutions Inc., said the proposed legislation raises concerns about the neutral role of Internet providers.
“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 in an interview Friday.
This is all customers want internet providers to be… all over the world: dumb terminals that provide them access to the Web. They don’t want government filtering/blockades, throttling, ISP portals, data caps or anything else governments/ISPs have in mind for them. They want an open pipe and access to the tap. That’s it.
But like all of these listed efforts, this too is being done in the [what a crock] “best interests” of Quebec’s internet users.
Quebec said the website blocking measure is also aimed at improving public health because “illegal websites do not apply the same responsible gaming rules as Espacejeux. They thus pose a risk to the population, especially young people.”
Ah, yes. The “young people.” Who hasn’t heard numerous stories about the lasting damages inflicted on unwary youths by rogue gambling sites? Why, it’s practically Grand Theft Auto meets the Adult Video Awards in there!
The only thing troubling Quebec’s government is the fact that these sites are horning in on its racket. Michael Geist calls it what it is:
…[A] “remarkable and possibly illegal plan as the government seeks to censor the Internet for its own commercial gain.”
And those behind the plan to possibly illegally censor the internet to prop up the province’s flagging cash cow just keep doubling down.
In an interview Friday, Quebec Finance Minister Carlos Leitao said the measures are not in place yet but he believes implementing them is “perfectly feasible.”
“This applies to gambling sites, unlicensed gambling sites,” the minister said. “So I don’t think there’s an issue of censorship.”
And again, I must say, “Really?” How does a government-ordered blacklist of sites not veer into “censorship” territory, especially when the list of targeted sites was written by a government entity with both eyes on its own bottom line?
Beyond that, blocking doesn’t work and it always causes collateral damage. Blocking illegalgamblinghotspot.tu might (MIGHT!) be acceptable (if a really questionable use of government power and resources), but doing so solely to hit budget figures dreamed up by imaginative government reps isn’t — especially considering the province has no direct control over telecoms, which would mean dragging Canada’s federal government into this sloppy, ill-conceived turf war.