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In the past two decades the Internet has come to be a dominant part of people’s lives. For work, pleasure, communication, and countless other uses, the Internet is an indispensable tool to many individuals. Without it, much of the information-based civilization that has been built up would stop working the way we are accustomed to.
As the Internet has become more important, so too have access to the most cutting-edge systems to provide high speed, security, and data storage facilities. Broadband Internet provides the fastest access to the Internet, and is now essential to the functioning of the American economy both globally and locally.
The Information Age
The increased importance of the Internet has spurred a significant debate over the nature of the rights to access it. Is Internet access now a fundamental right because it is a critical tool in the expression of other freedoms such as the freedom of expression? As yet there is no consensus on an answer. The United Nations special rapporteur on the freedom of expression has stated,
“Given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States.”
Many countries, including France, Costa Rica, Spain, and Greece have all legally enshrined the right to Internet access. Most countries have not yet followed suit, though vigorous debate flourishes in many polities, including the United States.
If Internet access is a human right, or even recognized simply as being important for everyone to have, then how should it be ensured that everyone has access? Some suggest that governments have a duty to provide service through monopolies run by state companies.
This pro-government view is wrong-headed in the extreme. The truth is that the private sector should be allowed to provide these services; it is always the private sector, absent state bureaucracy, that provides the superior service.
The Disaster of State Monopoly
The imposition of a powerful state firm dominating the broadband market would serve to reduce the ability of private providers to compete. The greater resources of the state would be able to give it the power to dictate the market, making it less attractive to private investment. Creating a monopolistic provider would be very dangerous considering that this is a sector upon which much of future national development relies.
Crowding out private firms will make them less inclined to invest in new technologies, while the state provider is unlikely to fill the gap, as traditionally state utilities rely upon their power of incumbency and size rather than seeking novel services. An example of this is Eircom which, when it was the Irish state utility, provided broadband of a lower quality and at higher price than most private providers.
The end result of state dominance and reduction of private competitors is a loss of innovation, a loss of price competition, and an erosion of customer service.
Troublesome Servant, Fearful Master
Monopoly, or near-monopoly, power over broadband is far too great a tool to give to governments. States have a long history of abusing rules to curtail access to information and to limit freedom of speech. Domination of broadband effectively gives the state complete control of what information citizens can or cannot consume online.
If governments are the sole gatekeepers of knowledge, people may well be kept from information deemed against the “public interest.” It is harder for opponents of government regulations to voice their opinions online when they have no viable alternative to the state-controlled network.
The Internet is a place of almost limitless expression and it has empowered more people to take action to change their societies. That great tool of the people must be protected from any and all threats, and most particularly the state that could so profit from the curtailment of Internet freedom.