Defending Net Neutrality Is A Fight For Human Rights
The liberating power of the internet must not be sacrificed on the altar of narrow commercial interest
FROM its basement beginnings, the internet has spread across the globe. It lets us connect more efficiently than any technology before it, and has become a crucial ingredient of modern life.
One of the keys to its success is “net neutrality” – a jargony way of saying that all internet traffic must be treated equally.
Neutrality has been a guiding principle of the net since its birth, but next month the US Federal Communications Commission will vote on its future in the US. Internet providers largely want to see it end, allowing them to give preferential treatment to traffic from certain websites, or slow down traffic from competitors.
President Obama has advised the FCC to preserve neutrality, and the smart money is on the status quo. But the fact that the vote is happening demonstrates that net neutrality is a public good that needs constant and vigilant defence against private interests.
Various projects announced last week have the potential to secure net neutrality for years to come. Google, SpaceX and others are racing to provide global, neutral, internet access from space (see “Multibillion-dollar race to put internet into orbit“). Their projects are welcome not only because they provide alternatives to the existing telecom providers, but because they move the world closer to universal access.
In 1948, the UN published its Universal Declaration of Human Rights in response to the atrocities of the second world war, many of which were revealed to the world 70 years ago this week.
Among the rights it enshrined were freedom of expression, freedom of thought, freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to education and cultural life. The internet is the most powerful force ever invented to spread those rights.
Those who regard net neutrality as a nuisance should bear this in mind. The newcomers must also avoid the temptation of letting commercial goals override their early idealism. Net neutrality is becoming a human rights issue in its own right. Like the others, it is worth fighting for.