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Is Mobile Broadband a Luxury Or a Human Right? 332

Posted by Soulskill
from the thou-shalt-not-be-stuck-with-dial-up dept.
concealment sends this quote from an article at CNN: "Moderating a discussion on the future of broadband, Mashable editor-in-chief Lance Ulanoff tossed a provocative question to the audience: 'By quick show of hands, how many out there think that broadband is a luxury?' Next question: 'How many out there think it is a human right?' That option easily carried the audience vote. Broadband access is too important to society to be relegated to a small, privileged portion of the world population, Hans Vestberg, president and CEO of Ericsson, said during the discussion. Dr. Hamadoun Touré, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, echoed Vestberg's remarks. 'We need to make sure all the world's inhabitants are connected to the goodies of the online world, which means better health care, better education, more sustainable economic and social development,' Touré said."
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Is Mobile Broadband a Luxury Or a Human Right?

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  • A Luxury (Score:5, Insightful)

    by siphonophore (158996) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:03PM (#41611733)

    One must be careful about diluting the word "right." Leave it at 3, and protect them fiercely.

    • If you are fine with just three rights, be my guest.
      I prefer a few more, like a right for privacy or a right to dignity.

      • Here is my definition of what a "right" is, and how it exists.

        You are on a desert island, all by your self. Everything you can or would do, is your "right". Everything else, is not.

        Rights exist, without effort or requirement of others. The moment a "right" (supposed) requires something of or from another, it is no longer a right. Period.

        This is a very simple and easy to describe definition that just works.

    • One must be careful about diluting the word "right." Leave it at 3, and protect them fiercely.

      By the time that half of the common things people have been doing will be online, not being able to access the (commercial, government) computers will be almost akin to American blacks being discouraged from voting, or other population groups being misinformed of prevented from having equal access to stuff.

    • by Artraze (600366)

      Well, that ship already rather sailed:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Declaration_of_Human_Rights [wikipedia.org]

      Where we have a "right to an adequate standard of living" ("freedom from want"). Of course, I am (because it is?) unclear whether "right to" means 'must be provided' or 'must be allowed'. Putting that aside, however, I guess it is an interesting question as to whether or not internet access can be considered an important part of an adequate standard of living. I don't really see it in there, but if you

    • Re:A Luxury (Score:4, Insightful)

      by msauve (701917) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @05:05PM (#41612623)
      Yes, it's a luxury. A "right" doesn't exist where you can demand that someone else buy you something (the child/parent relationship excepted). If the CEO of Ericsson disagrees, I'll need to know his address, so I can send him my Internet bill.

      Of course, what he's really saying is "Governments, through the force of taxation, should get the richer taxpaers to buy Internet connections for the poorer, increasing the market for my company."
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by readin (838620)
      My initial reaction was the same, but having read some of the discussion I think there is a subtle distinction that needs to be made.

      You have a right to broadband but not an entitlement to broadband.

      That is, if the government makes it illegal to have broadband - then it is violating your natural right to be left alone, and your political right to freedom of speech (since broadband is a method of speech like the printing press).

      However, you do not have a right to have the government or anyone else
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        Do you have a right to have a government that doesn't actively discourage you actually getting mobile broadband? Where does the distinction between what is and isn't a right fall?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:03PM (#41611741)
    Oh spare us the human "rights" that involve other people paying for the stuff you want.
    • by Spazmania (174582)

      Precisely. An "entitlement" is a service someone is required to provide to you. A right is generally defined in the negative: No one is permitted to do X to you. No one is permitted to prevent you from doing Y.

      Right to life - not allowed to kill you.
      Freedom from torture - not allowed to torture you.
      Freedom from slavery - not allowed to require work from you.
      Right to a fair trial - not allowed to penalize absent a fair trial.
      Freedom of speech - may not prevent you from speaking your mind.
      Freedom of thought,

    • Exactly.

      Now if they changed this to "A right to access the internet provided you pay for it" them I'm all in. Denying someone an internet connection because they use too much bandwidth, or posted something you dont like, etc... is wrong. Refusing to provide internet service because that person decided to live on the side of a mountain and trunking DSL to them would cost half a million dollars, that's their problem.
  • Binary question (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jellomizer (103300) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:03PM (#41611751)

    A luxury or a human right. What there isn't a middle ground here?

    • by BStroms (1875462)

      Exactly. It's a highly valuable resource and something for which there's a strong argument to get to as many people as possible. But I wouldn't go so far as to consider it a basic human right.

    • Yep.

      It's a very handy/nice thing to have, but you can live without it.

    • by Spazmania (174582)

      There are many middle grounds here.

      One is that Internet access should be an -entitlement- like Social Security or Medicare. If you cannot afford Internet access, Internet access will be provided for you.

      Another is that Internet access is a staple of life. Like denying food or water runs afoul of the right to life and freedom from torture, denying Internet access runs afoul of freedom of speech, thought, conscience and religion. You still have to buy it and you can only have what you can afford. But it can't

    • by jxander (2605655)

      That was my first thought to. False dichotomy.

      On topic : I'd rate broadband connection (note, broadband in general, not necessarily MOBILE broadband as the question suggests) around the same level of necessity as terrestrial radio signals, a vehicle, grid power etc. While it's certainly possible to live your life without these things, I certainly expect them to be present or at least available in my daily life.

      So I guess the question is : Do you consider working power outlets in your house to be a luxury

  • Right vs Good Idea (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BenSchuarmer (922752) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:05PM (#41611773)
    It's not a right, but that doesn't mean it's not a good idea. I think societies will find that the benefits of setting it up are worth more than the cost.
    • If it's worth the cost to "society" then it's worth the cost to the private entrepreneur who will invest his own money to set it up in the expectation of future profits from people who are willing to pay for the service.
      • by lgarner (694957)
        Not everything that's worth the cost so society is a profit-making venture. Police, Fire, public healthcare, and even public schools aren't profitable enterprises but are considered "worthwhile" because of the benefits that they provide to the public: health, education, safety.
        • Well yes, of course, although I would call the public police and fire services "necessary" rather than merely "worthwhile". Education and health *insurance* can be quite profitable, as demonstrated by the existence of private ventures in both areas, even in places where public subsidies have been commonplace for years.
  • by jedidiah (1196) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:06PM (#41611779) Homepage

    Rights are only appropriately applied to liberties. You never have the right to someone else's property or labor. Goods and services are not something you can have a "right" to.

    Access may be a compelling social good but it is absurd to call it a right.

  • Telephone (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Zeromous (668365) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:07PM (#41611793) Homepage

    It's a luxury stupid.

    50 years from now people will reminisce about cablemodem "party lines" and such, but just because a luxury is cheap, does not make it a human right.

    You have a inalienable human right to speak and to listen, but not to be heard (by whatever means of conveyance is completely irrelevant).

    Conveyance beyond your own two feet, larynx and lungs, is a luxury. Plain and simple.

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      50 years from now people will reminisce about cablemodem "party lines" and such, but just because a luxury is cheap, does not make it a human right.

      American society has in the past considered a telephone connection to be essentially a human right. Aside from outliers who lived far from any pretense of civiliation (which is difficult to do these days, because people keep fucking) everyone got a phone. Even some truly remarkably distant locations were served by POTS, for example the Mojave desert phone booth. The purpose was emergency communications. A fund was set up to extend phone lines to remote regions where handfuls of people lived, and that desert

      • by Zeromous (668365)

        Ubiquity != Human right.

        Humans have a right to communicate. Full stop. If you had a (legal or inalienable) right to a phone you wouldn't have to pay for it.

  • which political part wins the election and what kind of companies contribute to that party. Got it?

  • by jpstanle (1604059) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:08PM (#41611799)

    There is a pretty wide disparity between "Luxury" and "Basic human right."

    I'd hardly call indoor plumbing, 99.9% uptime electricity, or interstate highways to be "basic human rights," but they're pretty much essential for an modern, industrial society/economy.

  • by fischerville (1458275) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:10PM (#41611819)
    This is the silliest of false dichotomies. It's not a luxury because it's so widely and cheaply available. It's not a human right because it's a proper commodity like everything else. Not everything that is desirable is a human right.
  • by Zeio (325157) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:11PM (#41611833)

    Here is a bunch of "rights" for you, fresh from the 1936 USSR constitution.

    CHAPTER X

    FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND DUTIES OF CITIZENS

    ARTICLE 118. Citizens of the U.S.S.R. have the right to work, that is, are guaranteed the right to employment and payment for their work in accordance With its quantity and quality.

    The right to work is ensured by the socialist organization of the national economy, the steady growth of the productive forces of Soviet society, the elimination of the possibility of economic crises, and the abolition of unemployment.

    ARTICLE 119. Citizens of the U.S.S.R. have the right to rest and leisure. The right to rest and leisure is ensured by the reduction of the working day to seven hours for the overwhelming majority of the workers, the institution of annual vacations with full pay for workers and employees and the provision of a wide network of sanatoria, rest homes and clubs for the accommodation of the working people.

    ARTICLE 120. Citizens of the U.S.S.R. have the right to maintenance in old age and also in case of sickness or loss of capacity to work. This right is ensured by the extensive development of social insurance of workers and employees at state expense, free medical service for the working people and the provision of a wide network of health resorts for the use of the working people.

    ARTICLE 121. Citizens of the U.S.S.R. have the right to education. This right is ensured by universal, compulsory elementary education; by education, including higher education, being free of charge; by the system of state stipends for the overwhelming majority of students in the universities and colleges; by instruction in schools being conducted in the native Ianguage, and by the organization in the factories, state farms, machine and tractor stations and collective farms of free vocational, technical and agronomic training for the working people.

    ARTICLE 122. Women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life. The possibility of exercising these rights is ensured to women by granting them an equal right with men to work, payment for work, rest and leisure, social insurance and education, and by state protection of the interests of mother and child, prematernity and maternity leave with full pay, and the provision of a wide network of maternity homes, nurseries and kindergartens.

    ARTICLE 123. Equality of rights of citizens of the U.S.S.R., irrespective of their nationality or race, in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life, is an indefeasible law. Any direct or indirect restriction of the rights of, or, conversely, any establishment of direct or indirect privileges for, citizens on account of their race or nationality, as well as any advocacy of racial or national exclusiveness or hatred and contempt, is punishable by law.

    ARTICLE 124. In order to ensure to citizens freedom of conscience, the church in the U.S.S.R. is separated from the state, and the school from the church. Freedom of religious worship and freedom of antireligious propaganda is recognized for all citizens.

    ARTICLE 125. In conformity with the interests of the working people, and in order to strengthen the socialist system, the citizens of the U.S.S.R. are guaranteed by law:

    freedom of speech;
    freedom of the press;
    freedom of assembly, including the holding of mass meetings;
    reedom of street processions and demonstrations.

    These civil rights are ensured by placing at the disposal of the working people and their organizations printing presses, stocks of paper, public buildings, the streets, communications facilities and other material requisites for the exercise of these rights.

    ARTICLE 126. In conformity with the interests of the working people, and in order to develop the organizational initiative and political acti

    • You forgot the "some pigs are more equal than others" at the bottom.

      • You forgot the "some pigs are more equal than others" at the bottom.

        That's an implementation problem, not a theoretical one.

        On paper, communism is just as theoretically sound as any other socioeconomic principle.

        • by readin (838620)
          Communism is not theoretically sound because it fails to account for the basics of human nature.

          1. Many (most) people are lazy and work only because they have to do so to survive and/or live a comfortable life.

          2. Many (most) people are selfish and won't work up to their full ability just for the benefit of society

          3. Many (most) people are selfish and that includes the leaders. If everyone is truly equal and there are no leaders, the more capable people will find a way to make themselves leaders.
        • That's an implementation problem, not a theoretical one.

          So could we say that a "feature" of communism is the inability to implement it?

  • by SecurityGuy (217807) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:12PM (#41611845)

    I'm glad to hear so many championing common sense. Of course it isn't a right. No one has a right to other people's property or the fruits of other people's labor, and that's what network connectivity of all kinds is.

  • by MSTCrow5429 (642744) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:15PM (#41611895)
    Only in nutville does a right mean using force to get someone else to give you something they have for free.
  • Are we talking about broadband like home internet, or "mobile" broadband like phones and tablets?

    In either case, I don't believe they are a "right", they are a luxury. Hell, even electricity isn't a "right", try not paying your bill for a couple months.
    • Yeah, I was confused too. The article and summary refer to "mobile" broadband, yet TFA clearly quotes Lance Ulanoff referring to just broadband (not mobile).

      That's three levels of "rights" to take into consideration. Is Mobile communications a right? Is Broadband a right? And THEN on top of that, is *mobile* broadband a right?

    • Came here to post exactly the same thing. Broadband is something that is much more essential to life these days than mobile broadband.

      Does anyone feel that access to cable television is a fundamental human right?

  • FTFS: "By quick show of hands, how many out there think that broadband is a luxury?' Next question: 'How many out there think it is a human right?

    Actually exercising their human rights is a luxury for the vast majority of people in the world.

    On the other hand, the right to enjoy luxuries is also being curtailed.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sumptuary_law [wikipedia.org]
  • Thinking longer term helps you understand the difference between a necessity and a basic human right. 100 years ago, freedom of speech was a basic human right. 100 years from now freedom of speech will be a basic human right. 100 years ago mobile broadband was not a basic human right, and who is to say it will be around (in current form anyway) in 100 years. I suppose we could have labeled the telegraph a basic human right 100 years ago, but that would be considered preposterous today.
  • by Revotron (1115029) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @04:29PM (#41612105)
    1. Life: Can you survive without it? Yes.
    2. Liberty: Does not having it limit your freedom of speech, right to bear arms, right to a fair and speedy trial, or other consitutional rights? No.
    3. Pursuit of Happiness: Could you live a happy life without it? Yes.

    It is not a right to be bestowed upon you, it is an opportunity afforded to you by others. As such, others may request compensation for it.

    I'm getting sick of this new generation of entitlement.
  • First, mobile or not is secondary, the question is whether people are connected to the Internet or not. Mobile is generally the best way to do it (cheaper infrastructure, cheaper terminals, no needs for reliable/permanent mains power...), so let's accept mobile is best, though this might be untrue in some circumstances (cities, st world countries...) where fixed would be OK too.

    Second, broadband or trickle-band is moot: the question is whether people have access to Internet or not, not whether that access i

    • Connectivity is also a luxury. The internet as a public commodity is less than a generation old, fer cryin' out loud.

      • At some point, that could be said of cars, running water, telephone, electricity, sewers, public schools, TV, radio... Something being new does not automatically mean it's superfluous ?

  • there's merely values a society holds dear. the success or failure of that society is based on what those values are and how dearly the society holds those values

    if it holds those values so fervently that it calls them natural human rights and fights and dies for such so-called rights, then that society will succeed if those rights indeed help the society thrive better than other societies with a different set of values. the human rights the USA holds dearly i think enriches the happiness and productivity of society enough that the USA succeeds as well as it does

    some other societies hold other values to the point of fighting to the death, which i will not name, but a review of current events will reveal what i am talking about. it is my assertion that those values those other societies will fight to the death for doom those societies to less happiness and less productivity and therefore the dustbin of history, eventually, as they are simply out competed

    as for mobile broadband, i can see a just society handing out cell phones to homeless and poor people to guarantee a baseline of voting rights and access to health records and financial abilities. but it will take time before cell phones reach that level of indisputable necessity and ubiquity. but we are definitely headed in that direction

    in other words: not yet, but someday, when your cell phone is your credit card, id, bank account, patient records, etc., you will need such access to be called a right

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      You can define "rights" if you like, but that's just what it is, a definition. Strictly speaking, no one has a right to anything. All you can be sure of is what is granted to you by other people or what you can claim with your own power or abilities.

      Now if you want to be a bit looser about it, you can define certain things called "rights", but asking whether there is a natural right to something like broadband or even life is always an answer to the negative. You do not have any right to broadband. You

      • a government can say that everyone has a right to a pink house. a government can say everyone has a right to a daily meatball sandwich. it doesn't matter

        but if that thing called a right results in a happier and more productive society, that's the only metric that matters. because then that society will outcompete other societies, and they will be beaten or change to also include that right out envy or outright necessity due to dire economic reasons or social cohesion reasons

        in other words, the idea you need

  • We really going to stir up this old pot again?

  • by Bodhammer (559311) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @05:06PM (#41612633)
    Do I have the Right to not have to pay for your perceived rights? I believe that life begins at germination, first cell division, and conception in mammals, just like most trained biologists say. I believe human abortion is human murder. Do I have the right to not pay for abortions even though you think you have the right to an abortion?
  • by GodfatherofSoul (174979) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @05:08PM (#41612673)

    I've always been puzzled by the grandiose term "right" when applied to something like healthcare or in this case broadband. I'm taking an ethics class and "right" in this context doesn't mean what we colloquially think it means; it's an academic term. It simply means that a society is making the decision that every citizen will have access to some thing or some service. I have a right to traffic signs and lights on my route to work. I have a right to electrical service so long as I pay for it. If my old school district ever went through with the policy, every high school student would have the right to a laptop.

    It has little to do with your inalienable Constitutional rights that are on a higher level. It's a poor choice of words when entering a civic debate when the terminology implies something quite a bit different.

  • by tgeek (941867) on Wednesday October 10, 2012 @05:09PM (#41612683)
    I paid Al Gore to invent the internet, I damn well better have the right to use it!

    But seriously . . . I believe access to information is (or should be) a right. By whatever means is the accepted norm for the times. For example, in colonial (US) days that might mean via public assembly, printed pamphlets or newspapers. As technology progressed so did the accepted norms -- from magazines to radio and television broadcasts to the internet and beyond. And I believe the government has some responsibility to ensure that all citizens have access to information.

    Am I saying every citizen should be issued a shiny new smartphone with the latest and greatest 4G plan? Of course not. But every single person should have at least some sort of internet access available to them - whether it's at a local library, school, town hall or some other public facility. Or even publicly funded private access for special cases such as a low income person who is an invalid/shut-in.

    I'm afraid if we treat access to information as a privilege or luxury rather than a right, we're going to start a slippery slope we'll never get back up. And we may have already started down it . . .
  • Try living without those.
    "Oh sorry; you can't afford food, too bad!"
    Even something like electricty is needed now-a-days.
    Well I guess people live in in shacks in 3 world countries, scrounging for food scraps.
    You can live without them.

    What about public defenders?
    They cost money.
    Are they a right?
    There aren't enough pro bono lawyers to go around.

    I think people should have to pay taxes for some things, whether they like it or not.
    Even if it isn't a "right" it is an essential privilege.

  • I'm mostly in favor of the idea of "some basic internet access for free for everyone" as some sort of entitlement - I like the idea that if someone wishes to seek knowledge on the internet, but can't afford some basic internet for themselves - then the government (or municipality) should be providing some basic access. Free access to knowledge, basic access to learning materials and all that jazz. But they already do that (can't say if this is the case in the US or other developed nations, please correct
  • by Exitar (809068)

    "We need to make sure all the world's inhabitants are connected to the goodies of the online world, which means better health care, better education, more sustainable economic and social development"

    No, better healthcare means better healthcare and better education means better education.
    And more work for you and your kind doesn't mean more sustainable economic and social development.

  • You should have the right to buy internet access of your choice, but not the right to make your neighbor pay for it.
  • ...I find that one has the right to own and use a printing press. That does not imply that anyone is entitled to have the printing press given to him.

    Even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which is possibly the most liberal definition of "human rights" currently imaginable, seems to concur. It is difficult, given the reality of life on this planet, to see how mobile broadband can be included as a requirement for "a standard of living adequate for... health and well-being" (Article 25).

  • How can you have a right to something that someone else provides to you? What if they don't wan't to? Will you force them to give it to you? Wouldn't that interfere with their ability to live their own lives as they choose?

    Maybe it would be better to say that we should endeavor to provide internet access to everyone for the sake of human progress. It's a little disingenuous to pretend that by failing to provide you with internet access they've actually denied you something to which you were rightly entitled

  • No. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by reiko13 (1525617) on Thursday October 11, 2012 @07:23AM (#41617579)
    Vint Cerf gives a very good answer, though that was for the Internet and not Mobile Broadband. "For example, at one time if you didn’t have a horse it was hard to make a living. But the important right in that case was the right to make a living, not the right to a horse. Today, if I were granted a right to have a horse, I’m not sure where I would put it." http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/opinion/internet-access-is-not-a-human-right.html?_r=0 [nytimes.com].

Real Users find the one combination of bizarre input values that shuts down the system for days.

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