On March 8, the FCC proposed something extraordinary: a plan to expand the Lifeline phone subsidy program for low-income households to include broadband Internet services. What this means is that at least somebody thinks that Internet access is a right, and not a privilege.
As FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn write,
Internet access has become a pre-requisite for full participation in our economy and our society, but nearly one in five Americans is still not benefitting from the opportunities made possible by the most powerful and pervasive platform in history.
And it makes an enormous difference to how education — which is a human right — is delivered and received or otherwise acquired. Web founder Tim Berners Lee and MIT Media Lab founder Nicholas Negroponte both agree it’s a right. However, not everyone agrees. According to a report on the announcement,
“The reason the FCC is promoting the expansion of Lifeline,” says American Enterprise Institute visiting scholar Daniel Lyons in a phone interview with The Christian Science Monitor, “is because it is valuable for all members of society to be digitally connected.”
Lyons believes subsidies for internet access are helpful, but not an entitlement. However, he acknowledges the importance of digital connectivity socially and in terms of self-improvement.
What do your students think? Is Internet access a right? If it is, how should it be ensured?
UPDATE March 31,2016: According to The Washington Post, “Federal regulators have approved a historic expansion of subsidies for the poor, fleshing out for the first time a set of Reagan-era discounts on phone service to include home Internet access.”
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