The Finnish Government has decided that broadband is a legal right, and has ruled that all Finns should have immediate access to a 1 Mbps connection. They’ve also committed to increasing that to 100 Mbps by 2015.
The idea of broadband being a “right” seems pretty bizarre, but then again, let’s take a look at Finland. Economically, they are one of the most socialist of countries, even by European standards, and are a true welfare state. While the government provides a wealth of services to all of its citizens, it embraces wealth redistribution to accomplish that. They have a huge tax burden, especially for those with higher incomes, and they even determine traffic fines based on how much one earns. In fact, a few years ago a local heiress had to pay a speeding fine of 170,000 euros (about $204,000 at that time) for driving at 50 miles per hour in a 25 mph zone in Helsinki.
Are we next?
Could this happen in the US? There’s already been talk here about broadband being a right. In fact, FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, when speaking about the need for ubiquitous broadband access, said: “This is not something that would be nice for us to do; it is everyone’s right. And I think of it as a civil right to have this kind of access…”. There will be many more who will point to Finland’s ruling and insist that we need to follow suit, or we’ll fall even further behind in broadband access.
I don’t have a problem with the government finding ways to help promote broadband or break down barriers to access in certain areas. But, we must fall short of calling broadband a right, and certainly we must not make it available for free, which would be the next slippery step. I hope it won’t come to that in this country any time soon; although, with Obamacare, and other initiatives that seem to be a concerted effort to increase the population’s dependence on government, I have to wonder if I’m being optimistic.
Thankfully, though, the United States is not Finland. Our country is built on a unique set of principles, and there is still a large contingent of voters who believe in individual responsibility. In the United States we have two founding documents that lay out our rights. The Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed with “certain unalienable Rights” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. We also have the Bill of Rights, which is comprised of the first ten amendments to our constitution. Its purpose is to delineate some of the specific rights that support those ideals, such as freedom of speech, the right to bear arms, the right to a trial by jury, etc.
These documents do not “guarantee” us happiness, and that was not the goal of our founders when they were penned. They wanted to guarantee that American citizens would have the ability to pursue these ideals. In the same way, our “inalienable rights” do not guarantee us a job or a nice house, or any house at all for that matter. They just guarantee that the government, within reason, will not infringe on our liberties or stand in the way of our ability to pursue these goals.
I’m in the broadband business, and I would love every American to have high-speed Internet access. I would also love it if every American had a place to live, a reliable car, and a big-screen TV. But, it’s not the government’s responsibility to ensure that–it is an individual’s responsibility to pursue it–and capitalism will find a way to make it available for those who do.
What about you? Do you think Broadband is a right?