The Right to the Internet

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3 Responses

  1. According to van Schewick, the “original Internet was application-blind,” but “today’s Internet is not.”

    And this is a good thing! Because file-transfer and real-time video do not have the same network requirements.

    The idea is that every application must follow the same profile as file transfer, as some sort of platonic ideal, is one of the stranger concepts to become conventional punditry.

  2. With regard to a “right to the Internet” readers might find this post at Opinio Juris of interest, as this was indeed made a legal right in Finland: http://opiniojuris.org/2009/10/15/finland-makes-high-speed-internet-access-a-human-right/

    Of course the provision of a right typically makes sense when we can identify the individuals and especially institutions who are the corresponding obligation-bearers, and as yet this is not possible in those many less-than-affluent nation-states found largely in the southern hemisphere. In other words, in such instances we lack the ability to institutionalize such a right (apart from the backing of the law and the legal system). Still, the rhetorical notion of such a right can have salutary political consequences in the long term insofar as it may come to guide political agitation and legislation.

    By way of moral and political justification of such a right we might look, with Amartya Sen, to the concept of “relative poverty” (which serves to highlight the causal interdependence between poverty and inequality). After citing a passage from Adam Smith about “relative deprivation” (e.g., the day-laborer’s ‘need’ for a linen shirt in Smith’s time and place), Sen writes:

    “Similarly, today, a person in New York may well suffer from poverty despite having a level of income that would make him immune from poverty in in Bangladesh or Ethiopia. This is not only because the capabilities that are taken to be minimally basic tend to change as a country becomes richer, but also because even for the same level of capability, the needed minimal income may itself rise, along with the incomes of others in the community. For example, in order to take part in the life of the community, or the children to be able to communicate with others in the same school, a bundle of commodities needed may include a telephone, a television, a car, and so on, in New York, in a way that would not apply in Addis or Dhaka (where an adult may be able to participate in social affairs and children can talk to each other without these implements).”

    Hence the consumption patterns of others, for better and worse, matters, in which case the notion of a legal right to the Internet becomes more than plausible, indeed, increasingly, a “necessity” to the extent we can fill out and appreciate the notion of “relative deprivation.”

  3. Superb insights–serious thanks for the link as well.