News.com's Matt Asay finds much to mock in European Commission head Viviane Reding's argument that Internet access is a human right (quoting Matt here: "Microsoft Word document, which is really very ironic")
The fourth element I would like to underline is the recognition of the right to Internet access. The new rules recognise explicitly that Internet access is a fundamental right such as the freedom of expression and the freedom to access information. The rules therefore provide that any measures taken regarding access to, or use of, services and applications must respect the fundamental rights and freedoms of natural persons, including the right to privacy, freedom of expression and access to information and education as well as due process.
Matt thinks this is a hoot: "Wow. We live in such an entitlement culture that we expect to be handed everything, Internet access now included. Does that mean I'm guaranteed fast access, or will dial-up do?"
Short answer: Dial-up will not do. Now, I do not know what the EU considers fundamental rights (in true EU fashion, the Charter of Fundamental Rights is pretty inpenetrable), but I do know that the concept derives from the U.S. Constitution and that we do not have any "fundamental right to access information." If such a right existed, the right to net access would flow naturally.
But American fundamental rights only include:
- Right to life
- Right to freedom of movement
- Right to own property
- Right to procreate
- Right to freedom of association
- Right to freedom of speech
- Right to equal treatment or equal protection before the law (fair legal procedures)
- Right to freedom of thought
- Right to vote
- Right to freedom of contract
Perhaps we can imagine a world in which the right to vote is damaged by the inability to access government information. Or the right to speech is impacted by the inability to access the Internet. It doesn't exist right now. But the idea that there is a fundamental right to access information is not aguably in the U.S. Constitution.
So, I'm with Matt to a certain extent. There is no fundamental right to net access, tv access, newspaper subscriptions, cellphones, etc. But let's be clear: The concept of a fundamental right is that it's a right that government can't take away. Like France's push for a three-strikes law that would cut net access to repeat copyright violators. I think the French idea is deeply, fundamentally awful. But if government wants to pursue such a policy, should it be barred as a violation of fundamental right? No.
Yet Matt goes further.
if the government assumes Internet access as a fundamental right, it ultimately is granting itself the fundamental right to tax its citizens to pay for it.
That's pure nonsense. Government doesn't buy tv advertising for everyone or pay our ISP bills or fund a protest parade permit fee. If there were a fundamental right to net access, it would only stop the government from cutting off your access for being a serial downloader; it wouldn't mean the government was obligated to pay for your access.