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Discussion: Is Internet Access a Human Right?

Last posted May 02, 2013 at 04:53AM EDT. Added Apr 17, 2013 at 09:29AM EDT
33 conversations with 17 participants

Mornin’ KYM!

I’ve got a question for those of you willing to discuss it. I’m going to be teaching a section of my Human Rights class, and I’m dedicating the lesson to the idea of Internet access as a human right. This is a topic that has interested me since the beginning of the Arab Spring back in 2011, when Egypt had much of its Internet access cut off. Before I started my lesson plan, I wanted to get your input, to help direct what the in-class discussion might look like, and maybe provide me with some more material for the class.

The U.N.‘s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) states that all human beings “shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief”. While the Internet is now arguably the widest form of communicating and expressing beliefs, should states be allowed to put any restrictions on what can be said or expressed on the Internet, and/or who has access to it? Another interesting topic is the idea of the Internet as both a negative and positive right. Negative rights are rights in which the government is supposed to avoid interference and make no restrictions upon (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, etc.). Positive rights are rights which governments must provide and cater to (access to healthcare, equal pay, etc.). So here’s another question: could Internet access be both a positive and negative right? If so, what is the state’s role in providing access to the Internet? Should there be universal Internet access?

I hope to get some interesting responses out of you guys.

Apr 17, 2013 at 09:29AM EDT
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I believe that Freedom of Speech entails, by necessity, the right to say or publish whatever you want on the web. Thus: a negative right. The government should not interfere with your access to it.

That said, I don’t think that it is a violation of human rights if you DON’T have access to it. Many countries have very little internet connection, or very few computers. While it might be nice to get them some computers, I don’t think they have a right to a computer just for being human any more than they have a right to a free printing press.

In fact, suggesting that it is the right of all humans to have a computer(or similar internet-computing device) seems to mean that computer use is an essential part of being human.

Which it isn’t.

Yet.

Apr 17, 2013 at 10:40AM EDT
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Is internet access a human right? Well, I think yes and no. I think people have a right to internet access without government interference or monitoring, but to say internet access itself is a human right implies that internet is an undeniable necessity, which it is not at this point in time. While I see access without monitoring as a right, I see internet access itself as a privilege. Internet access is not something that is needed in order to communicate, it is merely a tool for convenience, and having such a convenience is not something I see as being a necessity that the government must provide.

Apr 17, 2013 at 03:17PM EDT
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…should states be allowed to put any restrictions on what can be said or expressed on the Internet, and/or who has access to it?

I think there are some things that can/should be restricted. Hate speech, slander/libel, and others would be examples of those things.

Now, I don’t think those can be reasonably policed, but I don’t see the Internet as being special in terms of communication media. If you can’t harass a person “IRL” then why should you be able to online?

There is a bit of a difference there though. You can ignore people on the Internet, whereas you can’t ignore a mob of people marching up and down the street calling you a faggot or a nigger. But I think that focused and intentional attempts to harass and/or unreasonably discredit a person should be punishable on the Internet.
 
In terms of access to the World Wide Web, I don’t think there should be any restrictions on an International basis (and perhaps even on a more domestic basis.) A person could legitimately be visiting a CP site with the intentions of studying it. Scientists very often go into areas where illegal activities are being conducted. They even produce studies on the matter.

Again, if these sorts of studies are allow offline, then why shouldn’t they be allowedonline?

But that leads to the matter of viewing illegal activities such as CP and voyeur pornography (and borderline pornography like bestial pornography and lolicon.) At what point do you police and hold the consumer responsible and punishable for viewing such things?

Do you have to have IRB approval to go to such sites? Can it be for entertainment if you’re not perpetuating it/can there be lesser penalties for merely viewing and not perpetuating it?

On matters such as that, I can’t believe that a person could frequent a bar that somehow allows minors to dancing on-stage naked without (and rightfully) reporting the activities there. Applying the same logic, if a consumer knows that the people on-screen are underage, then they should report that site…to whom though? And how?


The way I see it is pretty clear cut. In terms of communication, I think posting something in a public forum such as Facebook or a public blog should be held to similar standards such as a protest. If you can call for the death of Muslims in a town square, then it should be allowed on a blog.

Now if the communication is private and no threats are being made (as sites like Google and Skype probably have access to these communications,) then I’d say that’s the equivalent of speaking to your friend over the phone, and any restrictions (i.e., very few, if any) should be placed upon participating parties.
 
For what a person can consume without creating or perpetuating, I think rules with the well-being of others should be kept in mind.

  • Does CP hurt anyone?
    • Yes, the minors are being exposed to the public without being able to properly consent.
  • Does lolicon hurt anyone?
    • I believe the UK and other countries explicitly prohibit consuming such art. The US (with fewer federal laws and varied state laws) isn’t as clear cut on the matter (according to Wikipedia,) but it seems like at least one man was convicted of a crime for possessing the drawn depiction of underage characters in sexual situations. It may be argued that it doesn’t hurt anyone, but I don’t believe the Internet should be different from other mediums for this instance.

Those sorts of things need to be discussed, defended, and argued so that rules and laws can be properly informed (and subsequently, attempted to be enforced.)


Or more to the point:

  • I believe there is some room for negative rights, but only as much as it is offline.
  • I believe that the Internet is not a crucial medium for most humans as of yet to live a healthy and happy life, and most public libraries offer access to the Web for adults anyway.
  • Communication should only be restricted in similar ways as it is offline.
  • Consumption of materials should only be restricted in similar ways as it is offline.

I hope that makes sense. I didn’t really have an outline.

Apr 17, 2013 at 04:05PM EDT
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I can’t imagine John Locke being able to conceive of an idea such as the internet when he wrote on “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of happiness Property.” However, for many the internet has become so interwoven into the three that to live without it is to be deprived of them. We use social networks to manage our lives, maintain our liberty, and preserve our property – the Arab Spring is a direct instance of this. So I will say that there is an argument for the necessity of the internet, but only to those who have allowed it to overwhelm their activities and livelihood, ergo developed nations. As access to the internet expands to more disparate parts of the world, where the main concern is survival, the necessity will grow even greater until the right to access the networks – a right to converse with others, to become one with a greater body, and to be protected from isolation – becomes truly inalienable

Apr 17, 2013 at 04:49PM EDT
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I view it in simple terms: It’s about as much a human right as it is to have television access.

I believe in the right to access information so it’s a crime to use it to restrict or subvert the truth but not an absolute requirement to have in every household since it’s only one way of getting information

Apr 17, 2013 at 10:37PM EDT
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Here’s a thought: do you humans have a right to information? Many governments provide public libraries, funded by the state and tax payer money. Before the Internet, if you wanted to know something, you probably had to look it up in a book. And the largest and most accessible source of books was your local library. But why do we provide libraries? Surely not for entertainment; the state doesn’t provide free access to movies or television. Is it because libraries were once the biggest source of information and self-education? And if this is true, then should we not also be provided access to Internet, which is now our largest and most accessible source of information?

Also, thank you for your responses so far, they’ve been very helpful!

Apr 18, 2013 at 06:51AM EDT
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I’ve been pondering over this for some time, it’s an interesting thought and question for me. Is it a human right?

It for one, is not a necessity, nor should it be “free”, it has an intrinsic as well as nominal value, it should not be something that is free. Even water isn’t free if you want it to be clean and more drinkable than what you can normally find.

Now, as for rights to the internet. Like anything else that isn’t a necessity for living, it is a privilege. It can be taken away. It can be limited. And by nature, the internet is limited in it’s vastness and content.

So far, I have shown that it is not a human right, and I do not believe it is. However, I feel that every human should be free to be able to use and visit the internet, albiet with everything else, with limitations. I feel if people have shown they are not responsible enough to use it or their criminal actions have determined they should no longer be able to use it unsupervised or something of that nature.

Along with this, I feel the internet should be regulated. But not censored. This means no deep packet inspections, or government agencies watching your internet stream because they feel like it. Only if your doing something that is illegal (child pornograpghy, illegal weapons sales, serious hacking, etc.) should they be able to find out who you are and see what you are doing. If someone is hacked, but no serious criminal intent is there, I don’t think it should be legal.

Now I’m not saying going in and fucking up someone’s servers should be legal, but hacking into stuff or establishing “unauthorized access remotely or in person to a computer or computer system” should not be inherently illegal. Cause by this, anyone who is hacking is a criminal, even if they are white hat and are in fact trying to help. This I do not understand, but this is just the politians being affraid and stuff, cause it is scary really. But no regulation of the internet on what is said, what is posted, etc. otherwise. That’s what I hope we can achieve.

Apr 18, 2013 at 12:42PM EDT
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Crimson Locks wrote:

Is internet access a human right? Well, I think yes and no. I think people have a right to internet access without government interference or monitoring, but to say internet access itself is a human right implies that internet is an undeniable necessity, which it is not at this point in time. While I see access without monitoring as a right, I see internet access itself as a privilege. Internet access is not something that is needed in order to communicate, it is merely a tool for convenience, and having such a convenience is not something I see as being a necessity that the government must provide.

I disagree, I think the internet is a necessity, at least in education. it’s nearly impossible to get through school without internet access right now. With many places switching to e-textbooks and journals going out of print and digital only, there is a ton of information that’s available only online. Working towards my masters degree between 2009 and 2011, there were maybe a dozen times I had to loan out physical textbooks for my papers. Half of the classes I took were online only. And my degree is in library studies. Books!

Apr 18, 2013 at 01:26PM EDT
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Here’s my two cents on this:

Yes, but it depends on the country. There are extremely wired countries like the USA, South Korea, Hong Kong, Estonia, and Finland that are so wired to the point that they do almost everything online. This actually doesn’t break down based on income but more on culture. Japan may have plenty of technology lying around but there you still pay for things in cash, and they actually still use filing cabinets there. Estonia on the other hand has about half the GDP per capita but there you do everything online, you can even vote online.

So, In Estonia, you need internet. Internet is a necessity to live within the means of Estonian society and without it, you get lost.

In Japan, it is more of a luxury. You can still pay all your bills and get things done without internet. Plenty of people there do. (By the way, thank you browser for saving my text when crashing)

And of course, there are plenty of countries with little access to internet. The US falls somewhere near Estonia btw.

If I am going to say something global though, I’ll say that internet is necessary in expanding access to information.

Apr 18, 2013 at 03:12PM EDT
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@Katie

Yes, but it depends on the country.

That’s a good point. Our opinions on how much of a necessity internet access is, could be skewed by our own locations. Some places utilise and require internet access for everyday living more than others.

In places where it seems you cannot get anything done without it: you would be outraged to not have it and it will seem like it should be provided as a human right

In other places where you don’t really need the internet to complete your errands or jobs, the opposite applies.

I use the internet a lot, but where I am; I don’t really need it to live my life since everything I do and all the info I need can be obtained through other means in this place. The local library is still heavily used by everyone.

If I complained about having no internet access here, then people here will just look at me as if I’m some spoiled brat then tell me to go outside and do things in town instead of across the phoneline. Here, internet access could not be considered a human right. But that’s just in the rural towns.

Things were different in the big cities where I couldn’t get anywhere without looking it up online first. Shutting down internet access in the city would cause riots. It would certainly be considered a breach of rights there.

I’d say that both Amanda.B and Crimson Locks are right, despite their disagreement. It looks like Amanda.B lives in a place where internet access is applied as a major cornerstone in standard living, but Crimson lives in a place where an older pre-internet culture still exists.

Apr 18, 2013 at 10:42PM EDT
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If you’re limited on something that’s legal, yes, that would be a right.

Apr 21, 2013 at 04:00PM EDT

Katie C. wrote:

Here’s my two cents on this:

Yes, but it depends on the country. There are extremely wired countries like the USA, South Korea, Hong Kong, Estonia, and Finland that are so wired to the point that they do almost everything online. This actually doesn’t break down based on income but more on culture. Japan may have plenty of technology lying around but there you still pay for things in cash, and they actually still use filing cabinets there. Estonia on the other hand has about half the GDP per capita but there you do everything online, you can even vote online.

So, In Estonia, you need internet. Internet is a necessity to live within the means of Estonian society and without it, you get lost.

In Japan, it is more of a luxury. You can still pay all your bills and get things done without internet. Plenty of people there do. (By the way, thank you browser for saving my text when crashing)

And of course, there are plenty of countries with little access to internet. The US falls somewhere near Estonia btw.

If I am going to say something global though, I’ll say that internet is necessary in expanding access to information.

I believe Estonia was the first nation to make internet access a fundamental right. Their capital of Talinn has free wifi access throughout the entire city

Apr 21, 2013 at 06:10PM EDT
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Some related reading on the subject:

EDIT: Also, an oddly related news story about U.S. Congress pushing for “Internet freedom” against the U.N. Weird, because isn’t Congress also trying to pass CISPA, and isn’t the U.N. historically better about this kind of stuff?…

Congress pushes for ‘Internet Freedom’ as U.N. showdown looms

Last edited Apr 22, 2013 at 08:58AM EDT
Apr 22, 2013 at 03:07AM EDT
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Hell no.

The internet is a service as any other. Period.

And talking about what or not be posted or how you use it in your day or how many people use this to be important is not related to the thread.

A human right is something that everyone can and should access to it for keeping a good quality of life.

Water should be a Human right, Not a fucking service.

Apr 22, 2013 at 05:03PM EDT
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I think that the internet is a negative right, and that the governments should stay out of it. No filtering of speech, including hatespeech, slander, all that mean stuff. No omnipresent tracking, China-style firewalls, anything like that either. However, if anyone can see something (Like posting on Facebook), the police should be able to just look at the publicly shown information like if someone’s making bomb threats or selling drugs.

However, I don’t think that it is a positive right for reasons previously stated in the thread. We can survive without computers, and it isn’t important enough yet to cause ruin in its absence.

Apr 22, 2013 at 05:07PM EDT
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PSA: Please do not downvote opinions you do not agree with.

makiza had a valid point, he didn’t deserve that neg.

Apr 22, 2013 at 10:39PM EDT
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Is it a human right? I would say both yes and no. I think that if you have the means to acquire internet access, you should be able to do so without the interference of governments or censorship. But I also believe that it is not a human right in the sense that the government or somebody else should be required to give it to you for free. I think firearms are the same way. I believe it is a human right to be able to acquire a firearm. But I do not believe that it is the governments job to go about handing them out to people.

Apr 23, 2013 at 12:30AM EDT
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I’d say no, because the choice to get a computer or internet accessible device is completely optional. You can’t really declare something a human right when it is optional like that. It’s kind of like saying that blatantly scratching your balls in public is a human right, you are entirely in charge of your own decisions and the scratching in public is fucked up too. I agree that the government shouldn’t interfere with access like in North Korea though.

Apr 23, 2013 at 08:15AM EDT

People nowadays are playing a little too fast and loose with the term “human right.” I don’t remember exactly how the quote goes, or who its from, but it goes something like: “a right is not something that can be given, it is only something that cannot be taken away.”

Things like the internet, health care, public education, etc., are 1st world privileges. It is questionable to say that a country that doesn’t provide these amenities is violating the human rights of its citizens. On the other hand, one could make the case that governments that actively restrict access to these things may very well be violating the rights of its citizens.

All in all, I think its a very fine line between what is a privilege and what is a right.

Apr 23, 2013 at 05:24PM EDT
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makiza wrote:

Hell no.

The internet is a service as any other. Period.

And talking about what or not be posted or how you use it in your day or how many people use this to be important is not related to the thread.

A human right is something that everyone can and should access to it for keeping a good quality of life.

Water should be a Human right, Not a fucking service.

Water is defined as a basic need and a measurement of absolute poverty. Basic needs (food, clothing, and shelter) should not be confused with human rights. Should you compare the basic needs to human rights, they’d be human rights without question.

What you pay for with faucet water is the luxury to actually have it come out of the faucet in your own house (instead of walking miles everyday to the pump like a third world country, where water actually is free). Buying water in the store is a total ripoff though, but it’s business so people will keep offering it.

Going back to the basic needs, besides food, clothing and shelter, many modern lists emphasize the minimum level of consumption to also include sanitation, education, and healthcare.

It is the education which you can focus on for this discussion. As explained before: Nowadays education makes a lot of use of the internet, and without it getting proper education will become quite difficult. This does not make internet in itself a human right yet, but it makes internet a required tool to maintain one of the basic needs (and with that, one of the core human rights).

But regardless of it being necessary nowadays to keep up a good quality of your life, it is not something the human body needs to stay alive. The other 5 basic needs are all necessary for the body to stay alive, with sanitation and healthcare to avoid and cure otherwise deadly infections. So to say internet is a human right is still up for question.

Last edited Apr 23, 2013 at 06:42PM EDT
Apr 23, 2013 at 06:32PM EDT
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RandomMan wrote:

Water is defined as a basic need and a measurement of absolute poverty. Basic needs (food, clothing, and shelter) should not be confused with human rights. Should you compare the basic needs to human rights, they’d be human rights without question.

What you pay for with faucet water is the luxury to actually have it come out of the faucet in your own house (instead of walking miles everyday to the pump like a third world country, where water actually is free). Buying water in the store is a total ripoff though, but it’s business so people will keep offering it.

Going back to the basic needs, besides food, clothing and shelter, many modern lists emphasize the minimum level of consumption to also include sanitation, education, and healthcare.

It is the education which you can focus on for this discussion. As explained before: Nowadays education makes a lot of use of the internet, and without it getting proper education will become quite difficult. This does not make internet in itself a human right yet, but it makes internet a required tool to maintain one of the basic needs (and with that, one of the core human rights).

But regardless of it being necessary nowadays to keep up a good quality of your life, it is not something the human body needs to stay alive. The other 5 basic needs are all necessary for the body to stay alive, with sanitation and healthcare to avoid and cure otherwise deadly infections. So to say internet is a human right is still up for question.

Of course faucet water is a luxury based on the fact not everyone can access, and (at least in my country) can’t be a human right if is not controlled for the goverment. Of course the goverment must recieve tributes to mantain the sewerage, but if it’s mantained by a company then automaticly becames a service, and we will have to pay an extra because they will not work without ‘not knowing what kind of’ profit.

Human rights are declared because it haves anthropological sources (that means, it has always existed in the human history) and the internet as everyone knows does not even have 20 years old (i mean, before it becames commercial and worldwide). It is also a luxury for the ones that can afford a modern computer and an internet connection paying monthly (or annually idk) to an ISP. I will pity the fool those who confuses this with the right to information access.

The internet, as the same thing to read a book is just two ways to get information, the internet is far more useful because can solve 5 year old queries (“i want to look for a lovecraft book”, “i want to solve a math quiz”, “i want to see a cat doing funny shit”, “i want to seek the love of my dreams”, “i want aliens conspiracies being solved as fake”, “i want a military videogame shooters easy to play”, etc.).
Removing the internet as a tool for education will cause nothing than butthurt, but as the today’s education (sadly) is treating the students as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge like a piggy bank, no one will care if you really learn something useful or even truth using this tool and that’s education’s bullshit. Nobody can learn just reading tutorials and not talking with people (doing a cellphone call or be in a chat is not talking). More if we are living in this very limited and changing world.

Sorry for my english, spanish is my native language.

Last edited Apr 23, 2013 at 11:33PM EDT
Apr 23, 2013 at 11:24PM EDT
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Fridge Logic wrote:

I believe Estonia was the first nation to make internet access a fundamental right. Their capital of Talinn has free wifi access throughout the entire city

See? My point exactly. Internet is so necessary, the country has gone to some lengths getting internet to everywhere.

My dear friend who lives out in a tiny parish in Estonia says that internet there is 7 euros a month.

In the US be prepared to shell out 90 bucks for Hughesnet or WildBlue, because that’s all you get, it’s not even fast enough to play TF2 whereas in Estonia they’re getting 30mbps average, up to 60mbps in Tallinn

Apr 25, 2013 at 02:46AM EDT
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makiza wrote:

Hell no.

The internet is a service as any other. Period.

And talking about what or not be posted or how you use it in your day or how many people use this to be important is not related to the thread.

A human right is something that everyone can and should access to it for keeping a good quality of life.

Water should be a Human right, Not a fucking service.

You know what’s also a service? A doctor saving your life. Or a teacher teaching you.
Both are considered human rights.

Apr 25, 2013 at 02:48AM EDT
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Katie C. wrote:

You know what’s also a service? A doctor saving your life. Or a teacher teaching you.
Both are considered human rights.

Exactly. Considerered not absolute.

Why i am saying this? because (on my country) you have to pay some of your salary to get service on a private health entity. Same shit with going to the university, not everybody can enter unless you have the money to pay the inscription (again, on my country). Still services.

Last edited Apr 30, 2013 at 11:47PM EDT
Apr 30, 2013 at 11:46PM EDT
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If it is a right to have internet, then the government would have to pass a law requiring a form of free internet.This would be bad because the govnah might raise taxes on people in order to to do it, provide shitty quality internet, and use it as a circlejerk for their own purposes.

May 02, 2013 at 01:45AM EDT

SIRSWAGGYBALLS666<3 wrote:

If it is a right to have internet, then the government would have to pass a law requiring a form of free internet.This would be bad because the govnah might raise taxes on people in order to to do it, provide shitty quality internet, and use it as a circlejerk for their own purposes.

Oh look…it’s one of those guys who actually doesn’t discuss politics, but just bitches instead.

There’s no way that the government would provide shitty internet if it was nationalised.
Regulations would be a different concern.

May 02, 2013 at 02:09AM EDT
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Katie C. wrote:

Oh look…it’s one of those guys who actually doesn’t discuss politics, but just bitches instead.

There’s no way that the government would provide shitty internet if it was nationalised.
Regulations would be a different concern.

How do you know the government would not provide poor service? I mean, the people of the United States of America are currently battle internet censorship. Why give them more power? If they can give us something, can’t they take it away just as easy?

May 02, 2013 at 02:13AM EDT

SIRSWAGGYBALLS666<3 wrote:

How do you know the government would not provide poor service? I mean, the people of the United States of America are currently battle internet censorship. Why give them more power? If they can give us something, can’t they take it away just as easy?

What does that have to do with quality?

Anyway, nationalizing the internet in itself doesn’t actually pose any censorshit problems. What I’m worried about is them making a dedicated internet bureau that makes regulatory rules for the internet. The FCC has done a good job with the internet, and Congress has done a moderate job at properly regulating the internet, but I’m worried that an internet bureau would go overboard.

Though, I think nationalised internet might be a good idea, if you keep it free. At the least there should be a TVA-style program that brings internet to rural places.

May 02, 2013 at 02:54AM EDT
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Katie C. wrote:

What does that have to do with quality?

Anyway, nationalizing the internet in itself doesn’t actually pose any censorshit problems. What I’m worried about is them making a dedicated internet bureau that makes regulatory rules for the internet. The FCC has done a good job with the internet, and Congress has done a moderate job at properly regulating the internet, but I’m worried that an internet bureau would go overboard.

Though, I think nationalised internet might be a good idea, if you keep it free. At the least there should be a TVA-style program that brings internet to rural places.

Because, Government does not care about profits, and because they don’t care about profits, they don’t care about how good their service is.

Now, if people did a free internet based on donations, like the PBS, that might work better.

May 02, 2013 at 03:20AM EDT

Doc wrote:

Some related reading on the subject:

EDIT: Also, an oddly related news story about U.S. Congress pushing for “Internet freedom” against the U.N. Weird, because isn’t Congress also trying to pass CISPA, and isn’t the U.N. historically better about this kind of stuff?…

Congress pushes for ‘Internet Freedom’ as U.N. showdown looms

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/dec/04/un-internet-regulation-dubai-web-freedom

The proposal was actually withdrawn by Russia in the end.

May 02, 2013 at 03:28AM EDT
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SIRSWAGGYBALLS666<3 wrote:

Because, Government does not care about profits, and because they don’t care about profits, they don’t care about how good their service is.

Now, if people did a free internet based on donations, like the PBS, that might work better.

PBS still gets a lot of funding from Uncle Sam.

“they don’t care about how good their service is.”
Actually, if they don’t care about profits, doesn’t it become all about the service?
I’m going to say this: I can’t think of one privatised industry that saw the quality of service rise post-privatisation. I have seen plenty of examples of quality dropping harshly post-privatisation, especially in the UK. (Good going, Maggie!)

May 02, 2013 at 04:24AM EDT
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Katie C. wrote:

PBS still gets a lot of funding from Uncle Sam.

“they don’t care about how good their service is.”
Actually, if they don’t care about profits, doesn’t it become all about the service?
I’m going to say this: I can’t think of one privatised industry that saw the quality of service rise post-privatisation. I have seen plenty of examples of quality dropping harshly post-privatisation, especially in the UK. (Good going, Maggie!)

Well, I have a different view point than you.

Anyways, to answer the question, no I don’t think internet should be a right.

May 02, 2013 at 04:53AM EDT
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