Friday, June 26, 2015

Internet and Human Rights

I just read a piece which discussed the Internet as being a human right. Rousseau would even be surprised. Human rights do change with time, for example we do have "free" telephone service to those who cannot afford it. But Internet access is a bit more complex. It is available at your local library, if you have one, and at all Starbucks I would guess. Most hotel lobbies have it as well. But you have to possess a device which can access the Internet. Is that part of the right.

In ArsTechnica they state:

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in a speech today that "broadband should be available to everyone everywhere." Wheeler: If slow speeds are enough, why do you heavily promote faster service? The FCC was created in 1934 with the mandate to ensure universal access to telephone service at reasonable prices. Today there is a "Universal Service Fund" to subsidize access to Internet and other communications services but no strict requirement that everyone in the US be offered broadband. Availability varies widely throughout the country, with many rural customers lacking fast, reliable Internet service.

I wrote extensively on Universal Service some twenty years ago, as the FCC was considering expanding it to wireless. 

A United Nations report in 2011 said disconnecting people from the Internet is a human rights violation. Vint Cerf, who co-created the networking technology that made the Internet possible, wrote that Internet access is not a human right, arguing that "technology is an enabler of rights, not a right itself... at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it."

Universal Service was focused on a survival issue, the poor and elderly needing access to emergency care. Internet access is dramatically different. It is Facebook and Twitter, the benefit to humanity being marginal at best.

Thus one should ask why we should pay for this service, what is the societal benefit? My position of some twenty years ago seems to remain the same.