Internet for Everyone: Broadband access should be a right, not just a feature of the “competitive” market

The new non-profit and corporate coalition has nice rhetoric, but fails to articulate a policy agenda that would really address the digital divide. Public interest media groups should be calling on government and industry to provide free access to broadband for those who can’t afford it (whose numbers must be increasing, given the current economic squeeze). Just having “access” doesn’t mean it would be really affordable. Universal service in the digital age should mean the right of everyone to have broadband service in their home–as well as eventually on the mobile network. Americans should also have a broadband system where privacy is protected and is not primarily focused on data collection and the delivery of interactive marketing messages. That principle is noticeably missing from the new group’s statement. But the kind of Internet Google and other online advertisers will bring us threatens our privacy. [Google is a member of this new group.] Yes, we should have real competition–and the Bush decision awarding cable and phone companies a monopoly over residential broadband service should be reversed. Yes, we need network neutrality. But we also need to address quickly how we can ensure low income Americans have the access they require. That should involve a call for the government to pass legislation requiring a build-out of digital infrastructure, foster for profit  and not-for-profit ISP competition, and provide subsidized access for all. Broadband access is a necessity, and should be an essential “Right” Americans have in the digital era.

Author: jeff

Jeff Chester is executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy. A former journalist and filmmaker, Jeff's book on U.S. electronic media politics, entitled "Digital Destiny: New Media and the Future of Democracy" was published by The New Press in January 2007. He is now working on a new book about interactive advertising and the public interest.

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