July 6, 2015
Speaking before the Internet Innovation Alliance about the appropriate role of regulators in a growing broadband economy, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly suggested that the Internet is not a necessity or human right, as many tech leaders have suggested. “It is important to note that Internet access is not a necessity in the day-to-day lives of Americans and doesn’t even come close to the threshold to be considered a basic human right,” he said. “I am not in any way trying to diminish the significance of the Internet in our daily lives.”
“I recognized earlier how important it may be for individuals and society as a whole. But, people do a disservice by overstating its relevancy or stature in people’s lives,” he added (the full transcript is available online). “People can and do live without Internet access, and many lead very successful lives. Instead, the term ‘necessity’ should be reserved to those items that humans cannot live without, such as food, shelter, and water.”
The statements are in opposition of the views of tech pioneers including Mark Zuckerberg and Tim Berners-Lee who believe otherwise, in addition to tech organizations such as Internet.org that are hoping to deliver Internet access to people across the world.
The remarks were also offered as “the FCC is considering extending its Lifeline program to help subsidize broadband Internet access for low-income Americans,” notes Digital Trends.
If the Internet is not a human right, it certainly has become a vital tool in realizing human rights, which could help people make the argument that it has become a necessity. However, O’Rielly feels strongly that we should not place the Internet in the same category as food and shelter.
“Human rights are standards of behavior that are inherent in every human being,” he said. “They are the core principles underpinning human interaction in society. These include liberty, due process or justice, and freedom of religious beliefs. I find little sympathy with efforts to try to equate Internet access with these higher, fundamental concepts.”