One in four Americans don't have access to internet. Boggles the mind, doesn't it? The reason why some of us do not have access, according to ConnectHome, the public-private initiative responsible for addressing it, is a complex cocktail that boils down to the fact that providers don't go into poor areas because it doesn't pay well. This is one of the key issues behind the ongoing story of net neutrality.
Imagine if we didn't put water, plumbing or electricity in "poor areas?" We do because they are public utilities. If the United States Court of Appeals has its way, the Internet is going to join the necessity list (and about time, in my opinion).
Internet providers discriminate
Today's ruling against Internet providers by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that the Internet is a core service, like phone service, water or electricity, and so providers should not be allowed to discriminate Internet traffic. Just like we all should be able to drink clean water from any tap, you should be able to get good Internet no matter who or where you are. This opens the door further to ensuring all Americans get access to information.
Information is a modern necessity, not a nice to have
For many people, it's easier to go without water for a few hours than to stay away from the Internet. It's where you go to get your questions answered, to learn new subjects, to get your news, dive into work, and connect with friends and co-workers. The list of applications many people use daily, like Gmail, Slack, LinkedIn, Snapchat or Uber, is staggering--and only growing. That's why it's refreshing that a federal court just ruled that the Internet is a necessity, not a nice-to-have.
The weight of evidence is moving in this direction. The Federal Trade Commission reached that conclusion as well in its report this year:
When Americans increasingly rely on broadband for job opportunities, healthcare, education, public safety, and civic participation, but nearly 34 million Americans couldn't get high-speed fixed broadband even if they wanted it; when rural Americans are nearly ten times more likely than their urban peers to be bypassed by online opportunities; when 47 percent of our students don't have sufficient bandwidth at school to use the latest digital learning tools, we cannot say that we are meeting the standard Congress set forth. We have a moral and statutory obligation to do better.
Users shouldn't be limited in their pursuit of information
In the opinion against cable companies controlling Internet access and discriminating against traffic, the U.S. Court cited the threat, for example, that "a broadband provider like Comcast might limit its end-user subscribers' ability to access The New York Times website if it wanted to spike traffic to its own news website, or it might degrade the quality of the connection to a search website like Bing if a competitor like Google paid for prioritized access."
The Court also wrote in the opinion that by, "refusing to inquire into competitive conditions, it shunts broadband service onto the legal track suited to natural monopolies. Because that track provides little economic space for new firms seeking market entry or relatively small firms seeking expansion through innovations in business models or in technology, the Commission's decision has a decent chance of bringing about the conditions under which some (but by no means all) of its actions could be grounded--the prevalence of incurable monopoly."
The battle for Internet access
The battle for your access to the Internet, however, is far from over. According to The New York Times, AT&T immediately said it would fight all the way to the Supreme Court. Comcast, Verizon and other cable providers are expected to feel the same and protect their opportunity to keep your Internet access on their terms.