Telus Selectively Censors What You May Read

Originally written on July 26th, 2005, updated March 30th, 2008

Yesterday, while reading my newspaper, I came across a deeply disturbing story. It seems that Telus, embroiled in a dispute with its workers' union (who were off the job - Telus calls it a strike, the union calls it a lockout), has been blocking Telus customer's access to two pro-union websites. After initially denying doing this, Telus later admitted that this is exactly what they were doing - and then defended their actions by stating that the websites in question were displaying information and pictures that they (the union) had no right to display.

Indeed, in response to my inquiry, I received the following reply from "helpdesk@telus.net":

TELUS has prevented access to voices-for-change.com from TELUS.com or TELUS.net IP addresses.

This independent web site, which is hosted by a service provider outside of TELUS, was blocked because it publishes confidential TELUS documents, photos of TELUS team members who have chosen to continue to work, and instructions on how to carry out harmful actions that impede TELUS? ability to serve our customers.

While the web site remains operational, TELUS has blocked access to the site to protect our employees, our assets, and reduce activities that are clearly designed to limit our ability to provide the highest level of customer service possible.

We apologize for the inconvenience.

Thank you for choosing TELUS as your Internet Service Provider.

Well, well. Who died and made Telus God?

Full disclosure here: obviously, I'm biased against Telus. I own and operate a website called "Telus Sucks", after all, so I think we all know just where I'm coming from. That said, I'm also very much a fiscal conservative, and generally speaking have close to zero respect for unions. In the current labour dispute, I didn't have much respect for the union, although I'll admit I was impressed by the fact that they *DID* work for several years without a new contract rather than go out on strike - I like a union that views a strike as a last resort. But even with that, I have to admit I was on Telus' side.

Until Telus started telling *ME* which websites I could and could not view.

Fuck you, Telus. Fuck you very much.

For those not technically inclined, please bear with me while I explain the issue a bit more clearly, so that you can see just how dangerous this is.

Telus is an internet service provider. Basically, they provide a "pipe" to the internet for you to use. This is analogous to their role as a phone company that provides your dialtone on your regular phone. In neither case do they have a responsibility to police the traffic on their lines - they are a "common carrier". Ipso facto, they are not allowed to make such policing decisions on your behalf unless you specifically give them permission to do so.

How would you feel if your phone company decided that they weren't going to allow you to phone certain phone numbers, simply because they have decided that you shouldn't be talking to those people?

The pro-union "Voices For Change" website is not hosted by Telus servers and is not on Telus' network. But if you try to surf to their website directly, you run into a big problem: Telus' network is programmed not to send any data to that website, or allow any data to enter its network from that website. You just get a blank screen.

But it's not just the union that Telus has hit with their shotgun. This blockade has also prevented access to 766 other websites that all use the same server, including an engineering company, an alternative medicine site based in Australia, a Colorado-based electronic recycling company, and, best of all, a breast cancer fundraising site. Wow. Telus is opposed to recycling and fighting breast cancer???

These aren't the only innocent bystanders getting fucked. The message quoted above states that the blocking action that Telus is taking applies to customers with a telus.com or a telus.net IP address. Now, I'm a Nucleus customer, I don't use Telus. But Nucleus has interconnect agreements with Telus, which means Telus carries long-haul traffic for Nucleus. And that means that I, too, am not being permitted to view this website, simply because Telus says so.

What arrogance. What staggeringly ming-bogglingly blatant arrogance.

So what's next? Does Telus start restricting access to, say, the CBC's website because they've carried pro-union stories, including a link that will let you bypass the block? Might they decide to block access to Shaw or Bell because they don't want you, the Telus customer, to see what their competitors might be offering you?

As my friend Ross Procter (thanks Ross!) pointed out to me, this sort of thing goes on all the time. In China. If you put up a pro-democracy website, the Chinese government (with some help from Cisco) will ensure that your website can't be viewed by the fragile citizenry. So I guess what's good enough for the Chinese totalitarians is good enough for Telus.

This isn't just a slippery slope. This a slope greased and lubed with WD-40, Vaseline and a dash of KY Jelly. If we permit Telus to do this, we give up something that we should all hold very dear. Our right to choose. This isn't about whether or not you support the Telus' workers' union or not - it's about whether or not you want somebody else making this decision for you. If you're a union-hater, you should still be mad... because next time, the website Telus chooses to block could be one that you DO support. It could even be YOUR website.

If Telus has a problem with the content of these websites, let them address the problem the way everybody else has to: take it to a judge. If the website operators are doing something illegal (as Telus alleges), the judge will shut them down. Telus has chosen to be judge, jury and executioner, and that's something we must not allow them to do.

I urge you to let Telus know how you feel. You can contact them electronically by clicking here and visiting their website's feedback form, but a better idea (if you live in a Telus service area) is to call them directly. If they find that 90% of the time their telephone reps are spending on the phone is in relation to this issue, perhaps that just might be the kick in the ass they need. In Alberta, the number to dial is 310-4NET - I'm not sure about other jurisdictions (check your phone book).

And always remember... Telus Sucks.