Thursday, January 05, 2012

Engineers question whether broadband access is a "right"

Vinton G. Cerf, a fellow for the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, in Reston VA, on p. A21 of the Jan. 5 New York Times, “Internet access is not a human right”, link here

Internet access is a tool to getting to something else, efficient global communication, which can be used to keep “the powers that be” honest.  But it’s ultimately about fairer access to “necessities”, not about the speech itself.  What becomes a human right is what communication facilitates.

Cerf applies a similar argument to countering the notion that Internet Access is even a “civil right”, which can be implemented and protected by a democratic government. But the policy debates (over guaranteeing broadband access for everyone) seem to reflect the belief that it should be.

Cerf then migrates to discussing the responsibility for the Internet industry to provide a safe computing environment.

In the past, however, we’ve talked about “fundamental rights” as including self-expression for its own sake, with less clarity about the “right” to efficient distribution of the expression rather than the right to freedom from censorship of the content.  Cerf seems to be concerned with the “purpose” of the communication, which can leads us down to discussions about the troubling subject of “implicit content.” 

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