Hungarian lawmakers have passed a law that allows the country’s telecommunications authority to block internet access to Uber — a kind of nuclear option against the ride-hailing service and others like it.
But the move, which could effectively choke off the lifeblood of the smartphone-based ride-hailing service, is unlikely to be replicated in the United States or Canada, where such internet bans are seen to violate free speech rights.
Hungary’s law against “illegal dispatcher services” treats unauthorized ride-hailing services essentially the same as illegal gambling websites, which are restricted in many countries.
Blocking internet access has also been deployed by authoritarian governments against websites like YouTube and Facebook.
It’s highly unlikely that Internet bans would be used in the United States against Uber and similar companies. Attempts to restrict gambling and other illicit activities have focused primarily on users and financial institutions, rather than Internet Service Providers and content providers.
In Quebec, officials are considering ordering ISPs to block illegal online gambling sites, but even this move is being resisted by free speech and net neutrality advocates.
“I’m against website blocking as a policy solution,” Michael Geist, the Canada research chair in Internet and E-Commerce Law at the University of Ottawa, said in an email. “I think it runs counter to net neutrality and freedom of expression principles.”
Opponents of Uber and similar services, in particular taxi drivers, have pushed for internet bans because of Uber’s tendency to operate well before rules are in place to regulate the service — and sometimes contrary to regulations.
Under the Hungarian law, illegal dispatcher services would first be issued fines and then could have their Internet access blocked for a year.
The move comes after months of protests by taxi drivers in Budapest against Uber. Similar fierce protests have erupted across Europe, where taxi drivers typically belong to powerful unions, and they have resulted in at-least partial bans on Uber in France, Italy and Germany.
Spain’s government pushed ISPs to block access to UberPop as part of its efforts to ban the service in 2014. Earlier this year, Uber returned to Spain but with the promise to use only professionally licensed drivers.
Hungary’s hardline approach runs counter to new guidelines issues by the European Commission, which urged its members to adopt policies that would help foster, rather than restrict, the “collaborative economy.”
“Absolute bans and quantitative restrictions of an activity normally constitute a measure of last resort. They should in general only be applied if and where no less restrictive requirements to attain a legitimate public interest objective can be used,” the reports states.