My Corner of the ‘Net

Is the Internet an inalienable right? Part 2

Posted on | February 22, 2013 | No Comments

In my last post I discussed the idea put forth in Germany that the Internet had become a “necessity of life”, that the lack of it was not unlike being forced to live without a bed or stove. A more realistic comparison would be living without telephone access.That posed the question of whether that is that truly a hardship. Has digital communication become so vital that it’s a legal right?

But take that concept a step farther. What if online access wasn’t merely a necessity for those who could afford Internet access, but something normally free and available for everyone in the country.

The FCC has something like that in the planning stages right now. They’re working with television stations to try and open up part of the TV spectrum, leaving it available  for later use as a national WiFi system. The wavelengths used by such a system would allow for longer distances of reception, meaning everyone, not just those with smartphones, ISPs, and access to hotspots, would be able to use the Internet.

Existing ISP  and telcom companies are unsurprisingly resistant to this plan, lobbying heavily to try and prevent its introduction. Not only would it demolish their profits from supplying in-the-home online service, but country-wide wifi would also allow everyone to use VOIP or Skype exclusively if they so chose, making cellphone coverage redundant. Historically, an apt analogy would be the adverse reaction of the providers of gas light in the late 19th century to electric light, immediately before Edison build the infrastructure necessary to bring gas-free illumination to New York city.

However, the importance of this move goes beyond providing Wifi as a nation-wide service. It’s more than just eliminating mobile phones, more than letting the poor and far removed from cable service have access to the Internet. The true benefit is one that would be unique in history, which is nothing less than giving a populous the ability to communicate in a way more effectively, more thoroughly, than ever before.

Some might say the Internet has already been doing that for decades, bringing together minds both great and small and allowing them to communicate,  nationally and globally. But keep in mind that such interconnection has been highly localized: schools, companies, libraries, middle-class homes, etc.

The real game-changer is everyone, absolutely everyone in the entire country, being granted Internet access. Tapping into it would be very cheap, in fact a person could use anything from a used Nook to a first-gen iPod touch to do so.

This new system would allow people who might have stayed isolated and ignorant of the internetworked world a way to communicate, one which they might have never have experience otherwise. Imagine what might happen if that untapped potential were pooled together, the intelligence of a continent from an isolated scholar in the mountains of Appalachia to inner-city children living below the poverty line. Would that scholar contribute to the JPL physicists trying to develop the next generation Space Shuttle? Or would one of those children, now with the very same access to online research as their upper-class peers, advance in their classes and earn a scholarship to college they might not have received otherwise?

The possibilities that come with so many thinkers brushing against each other are nearly endless. The old [Hacker Ethic](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hacker_ethic) would become one more step closer to reality: free information and free access to computers for everyone, with all those people who might never have been heard adding their own opinions and conclusions to the gigantic global database of ideas. While a national Wifi network might not be the global village everyone had once envisioned, it would still lead the United States (and probably parts of Mexico and Canada) to indeed become a more close-knit community (just remember, don’t feed the trolls).

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