computerThis week I’ve been attending the Personal Democracy Forum, a conference geared toward how technology and the Internet are changing democracy in America. Since I’m a person that uses advances in technology (social media in particular) to speak out for political causes, this conference has been right up my alley. 

One very interesting topic that has come up with several speakers is the question of whether or not Internet access is a right or not. Some of the speakers made very cogent points that populations without access to information might as well live in police states. If you can’t forage information for yourself, where do you get your information?

However, I can’t see this argument being used to justify ‘free’ Internet in every home. In fact, government-sponsored Internet might actually be a detriment, especially to poor people. Government-sponsored Internet opens the door to government-controlled Internet, and I want Uncle Sam to keep his hands and his censorship to himself. 

The government controls the Internet in places like China, where they decide what kind of information citizens may have access to. Transparency is key for maintaining a government by the people, and without the ability to find dissenting information about public policy, what stops lawmakers from doing whatever the heck they like all while telling us they’re acting in our best interest?

Aside from the whole potential government control thing, it’s just a bad idea to put free Internet in homes with kids that likely spend a lot of time outside of parental supervision. Think about it: Poor kids most likely come from single parent families, or families where both parents work to try to make ends meet. These kids don’t have nannies or fancy afterschool programs -- they are latchkey kids. 

Studies have shown that kids from poor families with Internet access spend much more time goofing off than their peers from more well off families. Researchers believe that this is due to the inability of parents to monitor their kids’ use of the technology. It’s become such a widespread concern that the FCC is considering spending $200 million to create a “digital literacy corps” of trainers to go into schools and libraries to teach parents and students productive uses of computers. 

When you pay for something, you have an investment in it. Parents that decide to bring the Internet into their home will take the time to teach their kids about responsible usage, and will keep a closer eye on their online shenanigans. After all, why spend money on something that doesn’t improve your family’s life?

The Internet is a tangible product – something created, maintained, and delivered by actual people. Internet Service Providers connect our personal computers to an increasingly endless stream of content and information provided by other people. Internet service shouldn’t be ‘free’ any more than cable or phone lines should be free. Just because you have a right to something doesn’t mean you have a right to someone else paying for it.

Is Access to the Internet a Basic Right?