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QUEBEC MOVES AGAINST NET NEUTRALITY SPARK PROTESTS
Wednesday February 17,2016 : QUEBEC MOVES AGAINST NET NEUTRALITY SPARK PROTESTS
Unlikely allies for online gambling.
The Quebec publication Silver Times reports that proposed moves by the Quebec provincial government in Canada to force Internet Service Providers to block online gambling sites have come under fire from the Consumers Union, far from being a natural ally of virtual casinos.
The Union has penned a letter to government denouncing the sudden urgency around Bill 74, which seeks to reform the Consumer Protection Act, and questioning what it sees as an assault on Net Neutrality.
Critics have already pointed out that the government is more motivated to ban foreign online gambling sites than protect consumers because it seeks to protect its own underperforming Espacejeux online gambling operation from competition.
Espacejeux revenues grew approximately 30 percent over two years, but it appears that Quebecers prefer foreign operators, because the enterprise commands only a 20 percent market share.
Silver Times echoes those criticisms, asking: "Where is the emergency? By doing so the government protects not only the players but also the incomes of Loto-Québec, which loses millions every year because of competition from these illegal sites. Obviously, it undermines the revenue of the state."
The publication quotes University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist, who has frequently warned that the path the Quebec government is following has the potential to set dangerous precedents when it comes to interference with the Internet.
It also flags elements of the omnibus Bill 74 that make provision for Loto-Québec to partner with selected and appropriate private operators offering their games through the overall Espacejeux platform. After registering on Espacejeux, users could go to such partner sites.
Silver Times also questions whether the foreign sites are in fact illegal, pointing out that under Canada's Criminal Code only the provinces may establish and operate an online gambling game, but that the law is unclear when it comes to online activity by offshore operators and is in need of legislation that addresses this situation.
The latest developments are the culmination of an initiative in Quebec which began two years ago, when a government working group examined ways in which online gambling (and a reduction in competition for Espacejeux) could be tackled
The telecommunications industry has also expressed concerns over proposals to institute ISP blocking, pointing out that Article 36 of the national Telecommunications Act forbids them to govern, interfere with or influence Internet content.
The Quebec government's selectively anti-online gambling initiative looks set to run for a while yet and has all the hallmarks of an expensive and strongly opposed issue that is likely to end up in the courts.
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