As an American, I enjoy many rights. When you think about these rights, you probably jump straight to those mentioned in the Constitution, or the famous rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” in the Declaration of Independence. But in the twenty-first century, do people have the right to Internet access? Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg thinks so, and his latest project is addressing this topic.
The creation, entitled Internet.org, aims to “connect the two-thirds of the world that don’t have Internet access”, according to the website’s “About” section. A BBC article reports that the site would utilize a “zero-rating” policy, where telecommunications providers do not pass on the costs of handling data traffic onto the consumer. This process is not the same here in the U.S., and this policy would allow for hundreds of millions of poorer people in developing countries who have no Internet access at all to finally be able to connect.
Critics of this practice argue that it limits the amount of competition present on the site. Telecommunications providers that can’t afford to not pass data traffic costs onto consumers would be unable to access Internet.org. Zuckerberg’s response to these criticisms is that, “if someone can’t afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have access than none at all.”
I would like to take a moment to reflect on this statement. The concept of the Digital Divide – or the gap between those who can afford to and have Internet access, and those who cannot afford it and do not have access – has been a topic that has been discussed a lot in my Digital Technology & Politics course. For me, this issue seems to be a no-brainer; in today’s day and age, Internet accessibility is increasingly becoming a right that everybody deserves to have. So many of the opportunities that I have would not be possible with the Internet. My college education would be poor because I wouldn’t have the ability to research topics or find information that I had questions about. I would be unable to vote because as an out-of-state college student, I am unable to get to my polling place on Election Day, and so I rely on the absentee ballot (whose application is, you guessed it, online). And finally, I would be unable to stay in touch with my family. The Internet allows me to share my life’s musings with those that I love, both across the United States as well as my relatives around the world. The Internet allows me to exercise my other rights, and I believe that this should not be an exclusive club that only a fraction of the world is able to enjoy.
But, the Internet access that I enjoy, and the Internet access that Internet.org will bring, are two different Internets. I can fortunately afford to access all of the Internet’s websites. Internet.org will only allow users to connect with sites that have the ability to not pass any costs onto the consumer. The number of sites that have the means to do this are very small, and I ask myself: is some access better than no access?
I’m going to end up agreeing with Zuckerberg on this. While it is not a perfect situation, millions of people will be able to tap into more of the Internet than they currently can. Additionally, as more time passes, more and more sites will have the ability and the resources to not have to pass any costs onto the users, which will allow more sites to join Internet.org.
I can confidently say that the Internet has influenced by life for the better. So many opportunities that I have had would not have been possible without the Internet, and I cannot wait to see what new comes from it. Innovations such as Mark Zuckerberg’s Internet.org will allow more people to exercise their inherent right to have access to all that the Internet has to offer. A right that, I believe, is absolutely essential to have in a twenty-first century world.