On Net Neutrality and Internet Access as a Human Right

On Net Neutrality and Internet Access as a Human Right

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On Net Neutrality and Internet Access as a Human Right
On December 14, 2017, the U.S.’s FCC (Federal Communications Commission) will voteĀ  whether or not to end net neutrality in the US. If the FCC decides to end net neutrality, it basically means that the US Federal government will be issuing stricter regulations when it comes to internet access. The fear, as always, is that such “stricter regulations” may equate to censorship (which I personally think is the case). If you are not yet in the know, here’s an insightful video from the guys at College Humor (TM) explaining net neutrality:

The video above is more on the fear that access to the world wide web’s content, if the FCC’s vote is for the end of net neutrality, might end up being in the hands of ISPs (Internet Service Providers). Thus, your internet plan might end up being like your cable TV plan where the more you pay the more websites (channels) you can access.

Such a scheme will create a scenario where less money will mean you will only be able to access a few websites.

But the deeper reason why net neutrality should be retained is to avoid censorship. Admittedly, the free world wide web as we know now has its share of “evils” that any State would like to protect its citizens from such as piracy, sexually explicit content, scams, and other other content which might endanger the State and/or its citizens. These are the very reasons why some pressure groups would like to end net neutrality. In order to regulate which contents should be available to the people. However, in this particular issue, I am of the view that the individual’s freedom of speech/expression is far more superior than the State’s right to deter crimes.

This is why net neutrality is everyone’s concern. This is even if you are not living in the USA. It is true that the FCC’s decision will only be applicable in the US but a vote ending net neutrality in the US will have a global effect. For one, it is undeniable that the US’s influence is far reaching and other governments might follow suit. Second, a vote ending net neutrality will set a bad precedent and lobbyists (private ISP providers all over the world) might begin pressuring their governments to follow the US model. And third, a huge number of websites providing all sorts of content are hosted in the US. Certainly, regulations as to which country they can only send their content will be a huge drawback to internet access.

Notwithstanding a formal UN Declaration, we all agree that internet access is a human right. At this age, one cannot deny the internet’s significance to the individual citizen.

Censorship is contrary to our ideals of freedom of expression and speech as well as free access to education and right to information. When it comes to these, I always go for self-regulation. Premium must be placed on the individual when it comes to internet freedom. Internet access as a human right cannot be fully realized if the government controls which content should be available to the internet users.

Why, would you like your PLDT, Smart, Sun (these three are just one company anyway) or Globe, to charge you more for accessing YouTube or Facebook? Would you like that the only local news website available to you is the Philippine News Agency (pna.gov.ph) and access to BBC.com will cost you a Php100.00 more? Hell, the government might even force you to make pna.gov.ph your default homepage.

These are situations that a regulated internet access might create locally. The free flow of information that the current net neutral set up provides, despite its “evils”, will be gone.

One might raise the argument that “if you do not visit sexually explicit sites sites** or the deep web, then you have nothing to worry about“. That is not the point. As earlier stated, premium must be placed upon the individual when it comes to internet access. Everyone is different. Visiting the dark places of the world wide web, in the first place, is not a crime per se and I do not think any sane government will or should criminalize the act.

If the issue is piracy, well, there are already laws punishing piracy (here and in the US). If the issue is sexually explicit sites, there are also laws currently in place to combat the same. In fact, those websites can be legally blocked without ending net neutrality. If the issue is the spread of terrorist propaganda there are also laws currently in place. Ending net neutrality will not magically solve all these problems. Censorship is not the answer. The point is, there are checks and balances already in place to combat these “evils” of the internet. It’s just a matter of implementing them. Ending net neutrality, which is censorship, is an overkill. State governments cannot censor content at the guise of general welfare, which in this issue, is vague. Regulating the world wide web’s content at the expense of the general public is way too costly than the evils sought to be avoided.

Anyways, if we shall be crossing that river soon on whether or not the Philippine government should also delete net neutrality, I have full faith that, if the issue will be brought to the Supreme Court, and it certainly will, the strictest scrutiny will be applied.

Corollary, access to the web’s content must not be placed in the hands of the few. Monopoly or oligopoly of the web’s content must be avoided. ISPs must not be allowed to dictate which sites should be accessed by an individual – especially here in the Philippines where our tri-media is already dominated by just a few families. We cannot allow our freedom to be bastardized yet again.

Having ISP’s control web content is a likely scenario if the government would like to rid itself of possible lawsuits on grounds of abridgment of civil liberties like freedom of expression, of speech, and of information. The government can just let the ISPs regulate the web by limiting content.

With that I hope you will join the call against ending net neutrality regardless of what time and space you’re from. Let’s advocate and fight for net neutrality in perpetuity.

**I used the term “sexually explicit sites” instead of the “P” word (y’know what I mean, it rhymes with corn) because apparently, Google bots will flag your site’s content if it has the “p” word in it.

AUTHOR: Howard Chan is the owner of UberDigests. When he has free time (cough, cough), he takes that time to make his wife and kid happy and if some more time would permit, learn more about SEO, web design, and other stuff about coding. He finished Political Science but is no way a political scientist nor is he a politician. He passed the Bar Exams in 2014 and is currently serving as a Public Attorney in the City of San Fernando, La Union. Feel free to check his Filipinolosophy blog.
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