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Echoes and Mirrors» Blog Archive » The right to the intertubes

The right to the intertubes

Guaranteed broadband:

I think the temptation is to romanticize rights as timeless philosophical axioms; to connect them to an imagined state of nature from which your preferred understanding of the social contract then arises. It’s no doubt difficult to admit technology into that picture. But what’s the second amendment if not a guaranteed right to technology? “Arms” is, admittedly, a bit more poetically vague than “100mbps broadband connection”. But considering all the headaches that’ve been produced by that bit of American lyricism, it’s hard to blame the Finns for overspecifying.

To me it seems simple: society needs to guarantee its members the ability to do certain things, like defend themselves and communicate and participate in the economy. If the march of progress makes it absolutely or practically impossible for them to do so without access to some enabling technology, then the ability to use that technology will have to be guaranteed, too, right?

Guaranteeing access to a technology and giving that technology over for free are not the same thing. I don’t see the problem with this – if you can’t afford it, then you aren’t trying hard enough and your right to it has not been violated.

By co-opting the network infrastructure and providing it to the public for free is redistribution. It is, for all sane purposes, an effect of Rawls Difference Principle: justifying an inequality (caused by the state’s theft of the network) because it improves the situation of the worst off (those without internet access).

I don’t think it is a romanticized philosophical axiom: the right to something is very, very different from the right to not to have something taken away from you. But you must first have that thing, whatever it is.

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