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A Telecom Giant Wants to Block Websites in Canada

Bell is taking a hardline approach to copyright and piracy.

Jordan Pearson

Jordan Pearson

Image: Flickr/Jason Walton

Canada had a moment in the Sun in April when its federal telecom regulator declared that it will defend an internet where all content is treated equally by service providers, an idea known as "net neutrality." But rest assured, that brief shining moment is over.

During NAFTA hearings in Ottawa last week, the CBC reported on Wednesday, Bell Media (one of the country's "big three" telecom companies) stated that Canada needs stronger copyright protections. The best way to do this, the company contended, is to block websites that serve pirated content in the country. The idea is that the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) would oversee an independent organization to draw up a list of blacklisted sites, which Bell and other service providers in Canada would then block Canadians from visiting.

Naturally, digital rights advocates are up in arms about the proposal. Prominent copyright critic and law professor Michael Geist called Bell's requests "enormously problematic." For what it's worth, Bell is standing more or less alone in its crusade for website blocking—Rogers, one of the other "big three" telecom companies, stated that copyright is better addressed through reviews of copyright legislation, not NAFTA negotiations.

When reached for comment, a Bell spokesperson directed me to Vice President of Regulatory Affairs Rob Malcolmson's comments at the NAFTA hearing in Ottawa.

Bell's actions are just the latest indication that something is going wrong with how Canada regulates the internet. In June of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada dropped a bombshell ruling that said Canadian courts could, under certain circumstances, order Google to de-list websites from its search results worldwide. This ruling was the result of a long and complicated copyright dispute, but it boils down to Canada's courts being able to dictate what the rest of the world sees in their Google results.

How's that for net neutrality?

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UPDATE: This article was updated to include a response from Bell Canada to Motherboard's request for comment.