Access to the Internet is a human right. At least that’s how the UN sees it. I see it that way, too, but I don’t think the UN goes far enough.
The UN report, which deems cutting people off from the Internet to be a violation of their human rights and of international law, seems to be mostly concerned with stopping dictators from blacking out the Web in times of civil unrest (think Egypt and Syria) and preventing countries from removing access to people found to be in violation of copyright law (think England and France). Those are very valid concerns, but what about those whose rights risk being trampled not by a government but by their own lack of funding?
With the looming threat of Usage Based Billing in Canada and constant attacks on the principle of Net Neutrality in the US and around the world, maybe treating Internet access as a human right just isn’t enough. Maybe it’s time to classify the web as an essential service and public space, just like the streets.
Now, I’m not saying that you need the web to survive, like you do food and water, but you don’t need the streets either. Still, they exist and since most people use them to get around, they are considered essential to modern urban life.
The web is no different. It’s what people use to get their ideas around and therefore everyone should have access to it. While your own economic prowess and willingness to invest money will determine the speed of your computer or modem, it should not determine where you can or can’t go. Just as whether you’re riding the roads in a sports car, a van, on a bike or just walking the sidewalk doesn’t determine where you can or can’t stop.
Sure, there are financial restrictions on entry to some buildings, but those are determined by the building owners, just as some sites charge for entry. That’s fine. That’s commerce. Commerce exists in public space just as it does in cyberspace.
Things become problematic, though, when ISPs want to charge you more to get to certain sites or stay there. It’s kind of like a traffic cop asking you for a kickback to let you make a legal right turn in order to reach a movie theatre or the same cop charging you a fee on top of what the theatre charges to see the movie.
Right now, companies like Bell are trying to play the corrupt traffic cop and there really isn’t anything in place to stop them. If we don’t want to lose the ability to move around our virtual public space as we please, then we need to act now.
The UN started us off on the right track and now it’s up to us to lobby, push and shout if we have to. We need it to be known that the Internet belongs to all of us and we all have a right to our public space.
The next frontier in defending our access to a neutral net is the attempt to put in place warrant-less online spying. For more information please visit our good friends over at openmedia.ca and sign the petition below.