Net Neutrality Flatlining: Out After Switzerland Online Gambling Referendum, FCC Following Suit
Posted on: June 11, 2018, 08:08h.
Last updated on: June 11, 2018, 08:08h.
Net neutrality across the globe may be in its death throes. On Sunday, voters in Switzerland backed a new law that will empower authorities to make internet service providers block any non-Swiss — and therefore unlicensed — gambling websites, giving the country’s operators a de facto monopoly when it comes to online gaming and opening fears that net neutrality opposition could spread to a broader scope.
An overwhelming 72.9 percent of voters approved the law, despite warnings from its detractors that it amounted to dangerous state censorship.
The result comes as the US Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules officially also comes into force Monday, prompting fears that the very concept of a free internet is under threat.
The Swiss government insists ISP-blocking is necessary to protect consumers, combat fraud and money-laundering, and safeguard the revenues of Swiss casinos, which will now be authorized to operate online gambling exclusively.
Both chambers of the state legislature have already approved the law, which will legalize online gambling in the country for the first time. Switzerland’s casino sector, which comprises 21 gambling venues in a country roughly the size of Maryland, had long lobbied for a change in the law.
The market is saturated, and the casinos are eager for new revenue streams. But opponents of the bill have suggested it amounts to protectionism, pointing out that, were Switzerland a member of the EU, it would be illegal to freeze European operators out of the market.
It was the issue of internet censorship, however, that really struck a nerve, particularly among Switzerland’s youth. Within hours of the bill’s passage last October, a campaign was launched for a public referendum on the new law.
A coalition of the Free Democratic Party and Greens youth leagues were joined by net neutrality advocates and civil liberties groups to quickly collect the 60,000 signatures needed to force the vote.
Before Sunday, Luzian Franzini, co-president of the Greens Youth League, told France’s AFP that the law set a “very dangerous precedent” and spoke of a “generation gap” between lawmakers and younger voters.
“They may not really have understood what this could do to the internet,” Franzini said.
But the Swiss press has largely hailed the result of the referendum as a victory for common sense. French language Swiss news site Le Temps said the campaign to repeal the law had been “alarmist” and claimed it had “discredited” itself from the beginning.
“By using the financial resources from foreign gambling sites which wanted to operate in Switzerland without contributing to the public’s common good, the law’s opponents compromised their entire campaign,” it wrote, as translated by swissinfo.ch.
Only media outlet, German language Swiss news site Tages-Anzeiger, questioned whether ISP-blocking would actually work, and noted that there is “a risk of a black market emerging which will be neither controlled nor taxed.”
Countries that have previously attempted to introduce ISP-blocking have found it both expensive and difficult to implement, while the ISPs themselves end up spending time and resources playing a cat-and-mouse game with the targeted gambling sites they’re attempting to block.