Is Internet Access a Human Right? Reflections in the Wake of the Egyptian Protests

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Is access to the Internet a universal human right that should be recognized by the United Nations? *This*question,*buzzing around the world this week, is certainly one that I hadn’t thought of at length until now, so I posed it to … http://virtualnavigator.wordpress.com/2011/02/05/is-internet-access-a-human-right-reflections-in-the-wake-of-the-egyptian-protests/" [Broken]http://stats.wordpress.com/b.gif?host=virtualnavigator.wordpress.com&blog=11498882&post=503&subd=virtualnavigator&ref=&feed=1

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  • #2
Evo
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That's like asking if a telephone, cell phones, radio, tv, etc... is a human right. I say no.
 
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  • #3
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Why not save a step and say that the internet is something that is and will continue to be. No need for absolutism here.

The internet has potential to provide the ultimate form of communication between people and as a result it can keep governments at bay.

The question is should governments control and manipulate the internet as a propaganda tool?
 
  • #4
Pengwuino
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No it is not a human right. No one has to pay $50/month for a human right. Especially something that is purely commercial.
 
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I would say internet access is not a human right - reminds me of this story.
http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20110203/us_nm/us_manson_cell [Broken]

"Mass murderer Charles Manson was caught with a cell phone behind bars for the second time in two years, a California prison official said on Wednesday.

The state bars mobile phones for all inmates, out of a concern they could use the devices to mastermind crimes in the outside world, or arrange attacks on inmates or guards."


It's legal for anyone to purchase a car - only responsible drivers are permitted to drive.
 
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  • #6
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The infrastructure for the communication lines that carry internet signals have to be built and maintained. I don't see why it shouldn't be a right for people to have equal access to the infrastructure based on economic rationality. For example, if someone wants to build their own line to connect to a public server, why shouldn't they be allowed to do that? If that's not feasible, then why wouldn't it make sense to regulate the lines as a public monopoly/good and have public accountability for pricing and spending, as with other public utilities?

Still, I don't get how some servers are connected on a public network while others are private intranets. Why does a cable company get to connect to the internet for free but its clients have to pay the cable company? Why can't clients directly connect to the internet the same way the cable company does?
 
  • #7
Evo
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For example, if someone wants to build their own line to connect to a public server, why shouldn't they be allowed to do that? If that's not feasible, then why wouldn't it make sense to regulate the lines as a public monopoly/good and have public accountability for pricing and spending, as with other public utilities?
I don't know what you think a 'public" server" is, but I'm sure it's not what you think.

Still, I don't get how some servers are connected on a public network while others are private intranets.
A private intranet is simply a private data network, often leased by companies to keep their data off of the public internet.

Why does a cable company get to connect to the internet for free but its clients have to pay the cable company? Why can't clients directly connect to the internet the same way the cable company does?
Cable companies do not get to connect to the internet for free.
 
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If the users payed for it, the government is out of line for taking it away.
 
  • #9
Evo
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If the users payed for it, the government is out of line for taking it away.
In many countries the Government owns the telephone company which is also the internet provider. The government pays for it, the subscribers are...just subscribers. They have no say over if the service stays up.

Even if it is a private company, they provide service according to what the government allows.

When you have a country like Egypt with 4 internet/cell phone operators, it is very easy to shut off service, of course they can be cut. The fact that people have become addicted to them, does not make them a right.

MPLS can be dynamically re-routed around a cut, but the entire network can be compromised quickly.

Intranets can connect to extranets and form an internet link open to outside users. Basically, the more competition, the harder it is to shut down.

Phones, cell phones, internet, mail service, package delivery, radio, tv, etc..., these are services and conveniences.

Trying to shut down internet access would be much more difficult in the US. Thousands of companies own international private lines, which are almost impossible to shut down, that is where the strength lies, although they are being replaced by cheaper MPLS, . Internet carried via frame relay and MPLS can be shut off with a computer command. So can the internet that is not private line based. Satellites can be interfered with.

I'd say land lines are pretty secure. That is how some info out of Egypt was getting out at first.
 
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I don't know what you think a 'public" server" is, but I'm sure it's not what you think.
It must not be because years ago I heard that the internet consisted of numerous private servers that were voluntarily connected as hubs for html transmissions. Supposedly the signal automatically atomized and routed itself in the most efficient way through the network, with different parts of the signal taking different routes through different servers if necessary.

I suppose it makes sense that server-controllers would charge connection fees to other server-controllers, though I don't know what factors would determine the price? If you have a very large rural area with just a few clients, would you have to pay the same price as a server in a dense urban area with loads of clients to share the cost?

A private intranet is simply a private data network, often leased by companies to keep their data off of the public internet.
I wasn't talking about a closed network. I just meant a server-operator that controlled a subnetwork of connections among its clients and provided them access to the rest of the internet.

Cable companies do not get to connect to the internet for free.
But who do they have to pay then? They don't pay every server they connect with in the process of routing information around globally, do they? Do they pay every server they connect with directly? Who owns the big fiber optic lines (are those still called T1?)?

Are the money-hungry of the world to the point of shutting down the internet until they get GDP growth up to target levels? If so, that will be a rough ride. Of course, I shouldn't complain since there are plenty of people, presumably, who have already been priced out of being able to afford an internet connection.
 
  • #11
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In the UK, BT owns the entire infrastructure. All other companies rent the lines off them and only BT are allowed to conduct work on the lines.

For example, we're with TalkTalk, but it's BT who come out to fix any problems relating to the line.

Now, BT is a private company and not run by the government. But, the government has imposed a set of rules on them. One of them is that every person in the UK has the right to basic telephone services. If you want to read all the rules, the following page tells you all you need to know and is from the regulator themselves (Oftel):

http://www.ofcom.org.uk/static/archive/oftel/publications/consumer/consguides/cons0602.htm

However, that is as far as your rights go. They do not have to provide you with free phone calls (emergencies aside), nor do they have to provide you with internet access. These are additional services, provided to you at your own expense.
 
  • #12
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It must not be because years ago I heard that the internet consisted of numerous private servers that were voluntarily connected as hubs for html transmissions. Supposedly the signal automatically atomized and routed itself in the most efficient way through the network, with different parts of the signal taking different routes through different servers if necessary.

I suppose it makes sense that server-controllers would charge connection fees to other server-controllers, though I don't know what factors would determine the price? If you have a very large rural area with just a few clients, would you have to pay the same price as a server in a dense urban area with loads of clients to share the cost?

But who do they have to pay then? They don't pay every server they connect with in the process of routing information around globally, do they? Do they pay every server they connect with directly? Who owns the big fiber optic lines (are those still called T1?)?

Are the money-hungry of the world to the point of shutting down the internet until they get GDP growth up to target levels? If so, that will be a rough ride. Of course, I shouldn't complain since there are plenty of people, presumably, who have already been priced out of being able to afford an internet connection.
You don't know how the internet works do you?

People (companies, government etc) pay for hosting, that is who pays the servers. The public (and those companies, governement etc) then pay separately (this is your internet connection charge and line rental) for the technology to access these servers. You pay for the infrastructure that connects them all.

It's not as straight forward as you are making out.
 
  • #13
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When you have a country like Egypt with 4 internet/cell phone operators, it is very easy to shut off service, of course they can be cut. The fact that people have become addicted to them, does not make them a right.
Maybe not, but it makes them questionable as a legitimate free market commodity if addiction is a serious factor in mitigating consumers' freedom of choice, doen't it?

Still, the issue isn't the service, is it? It's access to the frequencies. Should there be free market competition in building antennae? Should there be a public monopoly that provides free cell-phone service like a library lends out books (that's a weak analogy, I know)?
 
  • #14
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Still, the issue isn't the service, is it? It's access to the frequencies. Should there be free market competition in building antennae? Should there be a public monopoly that provides free cell-phone service like a library lends out books (that's a weak analogy, I know)?
Who pays for it? It's not cheap to run/maintain. There's a reason companies are trying to put off upgrading the services to accommodate higher data usage with the new smart phones.

I think it's important to point out that any mobile, sim card or not (registered or not), can make emergency calls (for free). It is a legal requirement. Even in areas where you can't use your phone due to poor signal, some emergency calls can be made. My mobile operator can cut me off for not paying a bill, but they can't stop me ringing 999. I have a right to access to emergency services, but not to free phone calls.
 
  • #15
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You don't know how the internet works do you?
Thanks to this thread, I'm learning.

People (companies, government etc) pay for hosting, that is who pays the servers. The public (and those companies, governement etc) then pay separately (this is your internet connection charge and line rental) for the technology to access these servers. You pay for the infrastructure that connects them all.
So if I want to invest in a network hub server, I can bid a price to local internet providers and they will pay me if I'm competitively priced and reliable? How would I then connect with other hubs? Would I have to own physical lines between my server and other hub servers?
 
  • #16
russ_watters
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The infrastructure for the communication lines that carry internet signals have to be built and maintained. I don't see why it shouldn't be a right for people to have equal access to the infrastructure based on economic rationality. For example, if someone wants to build their own line to connect to a public server, why shouldn't they be allowed to do that?
I don't think that's what is meant by 'a right to internet access'. Similar to the 'right to healthcare' that is popular today, the idea isn't that you have the freedom to get it yourself, but rather that the government must provide it for you. What you describe is covered under anti-descrimination law.
If that's not feasible, then why wouldn't it make sense to regulate the lines as a public monopoly/good and have public accountability for pricing and spending, as with other public utilities?
That's fine, but electric power is not a right. You have to pay for it.....


....Errrrr......REBOOT!!

When I first saw this thread, I thought it pretty obvious that internet access isn't a right, like others did - so I didn't see any need to add to something I agreed with. But now I realize there is a flaw in that logic. The problem is with the recently perverted definition of "rights" that has me knee-jerk reacting against it. People argue that healthcare is a right, by which they mean the government must provide it for them. But that's not what it means for something to be a "right". To be a right - by the definition used for the past few hundred years - only means the government can't take it from you.

Cell phone networks and the Internet today are for the most part privately owned and sold to the public as a service - I can only assume they are in Egypt as well. Under the traditional definition, then, the government is not entitled to arbitrarily deprive you of the right to purchase goods and services.

However, a revolution is by definition an illegal act. It's the citizens overthrowing the government. The government then does what it needs to do to preserve itself: Martial law infringes on a lot of rights.

So to sum up: legal commerce - and therefore internet access - is a right. However in a revolution, everyone is breaking the law (the people and the government), so the concept of "rights" basically goes out the window.
 
  • #17
Evo
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Thanks to this thread, I'm learning.


So if I want to invest in a network hub server, I can bid a price to local internet providers and they will pay me if I'm competitively priced and reliable? How would I then connect with other hubs? Would I have to own physical lines between my server and other hub servers?
It's very complex and exepensive. In order to peer, you need to meet some hefty requirements.
 
  • #18
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So if I want to invest in a network hub server, I can bid a price to local internet providers and they will pay me if I'm competitively priced and reliable? How would I then connect with other hubs? Would I have to own physical lines between my server and other hub servers?
Well for the UK, you never own your own lines unless you have them specifically installed.

Now I've never come across a "network hub server" before, we have network hubs and we have network servers. Perhaps someone else here can cover this with you.

Again for the UK, we have three major hubs I believe, all owned by BT.

Servers are owned privately and just hook up to the network with an IP address to them allowing you to connect (there's a fair bit more involved than that though). You don't get paid to host it, you pay an ISP to let you connect to the internet with it. Server hosts make money by charging people to use their servers to put their websites on.
 
  • #19
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To be a right - by the definition used for the past few hundred years - only means the government can't take it from you.
Agreed.
Cell phone networks and the Internet today are for the most part privately owned and sold to the public as a service - I can only assume they are in Egypt as well. Under the traditional definition, then, the government is not entitled to arbitrarily deprive you of the right to purchase goods and services.
The question is, where does private and public merge?

We have undersea cables connecting us all over the world. Who owns them?

The private sector may own and control the internal infrastructure - the government can't stop you buying/accessing that - but if the government owns the connections out of the country they can certainly stop you using them. By cutting you off from everything outside your country (particularly somewhere like Egypt where little is internal so far as site hosting goes) you kill the internet to that country, without killing the internal networks.

I've seen the graph of network activity to and from Egypt since the switch off, but it would be interesting to compare the send/receive of the country to the world with the send/receive of the internal networks. I may not be able to connect my PS3 to the servers and play with some Europeans, but I could still have a LAN party with my friends down the street. That sort of thing.
 
  • #20
Evo
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russ said:
Under the traditional definition, then, the government is not entitled to arbitrarily deprive you of the right to purchase goods and services.
So the government has an obligation to furnish me with chili cheese dogs?
 
  • #21
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So the government has an obligation to furnish me with chili cheese dogs?
:rofl:

They can't stop you buying them, but they don't have to provide you with them is what I think russ was saying.
 
  • #22
Evo
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:rofl:

They can't stop you buying them, but they don't have to provide you with them is what I think russ was saying.
Well, then that's what we've been saying.
 
  • #23
russ_watters
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:rofl:

They can't stop you buying them, but they don't have to provide you with them is what I think russ was saying.
Yes.

Using the assumption that the service operates similar to the way it does in the US, the public had internet access a few weeks ago, provided by mostly private service companies. Perhaps as well, the government owned some of the infrastructure - in the US, the government doesn't own the power lines, but it does own the roads. But it owns the roads only as a convenience. That shouldn't be interpreted to mean roads are a government-provided entitlement. When the revolution started, the government changed the rules and cut off that infrastructure.

I'm not saying its right or wrong, I'm just saying it happened.
 
  • #24
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I don't think that's what is meant by 'a right to internet access'. Similar to the 'right to healthcare' that is popular today, the idea isn't that you have the freedom to get it yourself, but rather that the government must provide it for you. What you describe is covered under anti-descrimination law. That's fine, but electric power is not a right. You have to pay for it.....
But when the service is provided by monopoly, you have the right not to be exploited. Competitive markets supposedly protect consumers against abusive pricing and contracts, which is why monopolies are supposed to be publicly regulated; i.e. to prevent exploitation of the monopoly position.

People argue that healthcare is a right, by which they mean the government must provide it for them. But that's not what it means for something to be a "right". To be a right - by the definition used for the past few hundred years - only means the government can't take it from you.
So how does that apply to the right to a speedy and public trial by jury? What about the right to be notified of charges against you or the right to a public defender?

Cell phone networks and the Internet today are for the most part privately owned and sold to the public as a service - I can only assume they are in Egypt as well. Under the traditional definition, then, the government is not entitled to arbitrarily deprive you of the right to purchase goods and services.
But are the providers entitled to exploit you in the provision of services?

However, a revolution is by definition an illegal act. It's the citizens overthrowing the government. The government then does what it needs to do to preserve itself: Martial law infringes on a lot of rights.
That would make the U.S. revolutionary war an illegal act and the U.S. should be returned to its colonial owners, no? It was my impression that people have the right to overthrow a government by the least violent/destructive means possible. If the government refuses to be accountable to reasonable standards of legitimacy, what other option would you have but to overthrow it?

So to sum up: legal commerce - and therefore internet access - is a right. However in a revolution, everyone is breaking the law (the people and the government), so the concept of "rights" basically goes out the window.
Nonsense. You think that if a revolution is going on, people have no duty to respect each others' rights? If you classify the situation as a war, people still can argue wartime rights. Besides, who says that there aren't certain universal rights that are independent of revolution or any other social state of affairs?
 
  • #25
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So the government has an obligation to furnish me with chili cheese dogs?
Not some food in particular, but if a government has the means to provide people with food who would otherwise suffer from malnutrition, why wouldn't the government have the responsibility to provide that food? If a doctor is confronted with a dying person, do they have the right to let the person die? No, they took an oath to save life whenever possible. So why shouldn't a government have the same responsibility to fulfill basic needs when it has the means to do so?

Now, you can still argue that internet isn't a basic need the way food and water are, but the question is whether government may deny support of internet service as a means to levy general censorship of free speech. It seems to me that any democratic government has the responsibility to provide some form of access to public discourse for all citizens. Otherwise, how can individuals have equal access to voicing their views publicly? Stand on a soapbox in public? At this point in online-discourse, I would personally find it curtailment of my democratic participation to have internet access unavailable. How many users of online forums wouldn't?
 

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