Tuesday, 9 March 2010

A human right to internet access

According to the BBC
Countries such as Finland and Estonia have already ruled that access is a human right for their citizens.
In a separate BBC article, Bill Thompson notes that
Earlier this month Vivian Reding, the European Commissioner responsible for Information Society and Media, spoke of "a right to Internet access" and pointed out that the EU's new telecommunications rules "recognise explicitly that Internet access is a fundamental right such as the freedom of expression and the freedom to access information".
He goes on to say
If it is unacceptable to cut people off from the network because their actions are commercially damaging to the record companies, why is it acceptable to offer them poor or no access to broadband and mobile internet just because providing the service is commercially unattractive to ISPs or network operators?

And if we are to be encouraged to think of access to the internet as a fundamental human right, a prerequisite of having freedom of expression, should we not be prosecuting ISPs over the 'notspots' in their mobile or wi-fi coverage
In these short paragraphs we see two dangerous ideas:
  1. That under the European model, rights must be explicitly granted to us.
  2. The conflation of freedom from government interference with an entitlement to internet access (at someone else's expense)
We have already seen the government's plans to deliver on this particular entitlement.

Every Briton with a fixed-line phone will pay a "small levy" of 50p per month to pay for faster net access.

The national fund created by the levy will be used to ensure most Britons get access to future net technologies.

This was subsequently condemned as unfair:
The cross-party Business Innovation and Skills Committee said most of those who would pay the tax would not benefit from the faster broadband service.
"It will place a disproportionate cost on a majority who will not, or are unable to, reap the benefits of that charge."
However, committee chairman Peter Luff went on to say
"The real priority should be the universal service obligation and the whole effort to increase digital inclusion."
The principle that operators should be forced or subsidised to provide service where it is uneconomic remains unquestioned.

There are certainly worse things the government could be doing with our money; they are doing most of those things already. But it is offensive that they claim the moral high ground for these redistributive 'Robin Hood' policies, and disturbing that they see no limits to the domain of the government.

Even in today's Britain, people have a choice about where they live. There are doubtless many benefits to living in the deepest, darkest countryside, as well as drawbacks. City dwellers should not be forced to subsidise this lifestyle choice.

Unless we can turn the discussion away from rights, and towards freedoms, European civilization is doomed.

1 comment:

  1. Ha ! This news story also grated me. Firstly the idea of these bureaucrats declaring what is a Human Right as if it is something they have any control over. Secondly because of this Government's ridiculous obsession with providing high speed broadband to every citizen as a cure for all manner of social ills. You know they are serious when they appoint a broadband czar ! Not even the geekiest amongst us could honestly say high speed broadband is going to make the slightest difference to the socio-economic position of anyone. Faster movies ? Better games ? Most of the truly useful things that can be done on the internet can still be done on dial-up. Idiots...