A Bell-led website blocking scheme may open the floodgates to widespread censorship

Image: OpenMedia

Back in September, we were shocked by Bell Canada's overreaching proposal to introduce a mandatory website blocking system with no judicial oversight and radical new copyright rules in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which is currently being renegotiated. Not long after, rumours surfaced that Bell was planning a similar proposal at home via the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC). And this January, just when we thought we'd seen it all, Bell went full throttle and spearheaded a coalition of over 25 organizations calling itself "FairPlay Canada," including Cineplex and the CBC. This coalition has formally requested the CRTC to consider creating a website-blocking agency.

Bell's proposal is problematic because creating a censorship committee within the federal government has a huge potential to open the floodgates to widespread Internet censorship. Website blocking schemes often result in over-blocking, as seen in the U.K., where gay-teen support sites are being added to its ever-growing list of blocked websites. So if this proposal goes through, it won't be long before legitimate content and even services like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) become the coalition's next targets. FairPlay Canada's proposal is an attack on Canadians' right to free expression and our robust net neutrality rules that Minister Navdeep Bains and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have both expressed strong support for.

Bell's foundations for its website blocking proposal, that it's targetting piracy, prove rather weak. Canada is already home to some of the toughest anti-piracy laws in the world, and recent reports indicate that piracy rates are declining as people are rapidly shifting to legal alternatives. Plus, data shows online streaming services like Netflix, Spotify and Apple Music are thriving, demonstrating that if people are given affordable access to the content they want to watch, they are willing to pay for it.

But Bell seems to be telling different stories depending on its needs. On one hand, Bell is trying to convince the CRTC that piracy is a big problem in need of a radical "solution," emphasizing how it's leading people to cut the cord on their pricy cable packages. Simultaneously, Bell is emphasizing the success of its TV and online streaming services before business analysts (with no mention of the former).

This proposal from Bell is just one more example of the ways that Canada's vertically integrated telecommunications companies are trampling on our internet rights in favour of their concentrated media interests. Except, in this case, their plan won't even help put money back into their TV assets. It's time for Bell, and its partners, to ensure their content is available where Canadians want to watch it: online. And as has been made clear time and time again -- if they offer it, Canadians will pay.

OpenMedia has been pushing back against Bell's censorship proposal since it first tried to sneak it into NAFTA, and we will not back down. We spearheaded a nationwide day of action on February 28 and will continue to collect comments against Bell coalition’s proposal, which we will be submitting as part of the CRTC’s comment period (ending March 29, 2018). People can also submit their comments directly to the CRTC's website. Follow OpenMedia on Facebook and Twitter for the latest developments on Bell coalition's proposal.

Marie Aspiazu is a Campaigner and Social Media Specialist for OpenMedia, a non-profit organization that works to keep the internet open, affordable, and surveillance-free.

Image: OpenMedia

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