The Internet is likely the greatest invention created in FCC Commissioner Michael O'Rielly's lifetime, but despite its importance to both consumers and businesses, he maintains that access to it is neither a necessity nor a human right.
O'Rielly answers questions following his remarks at the IIA panel. (Source: IIA)
O'Rielly held firmly to this opinion in remarks ahead of an Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) panel that was live-streamed from the U.S. Senate Visitors Center, and therefore only available online, best viewed with a broadband connection. "The Role for Regulators In An Expanding Broadband Economy" explored recent net neutrality rulemaking and broadband policy.
As a precursor to the panel discussion, O'Rielly was there to outline five personal principles he said he uses as guidelines when considering Internet regulation. "First, the Internet cannot be stopped," he said, outlining the Godzilla-like capabilities of the technology in crushing any attempt by businesses or countries to curtail its growth or censor its content.
"Internet and broadband are ever-present. It's hard to find one aspect of business that isn't completely connected to the Internet," he said.
Continuing his praise of just how disruptive the Internet has been to the global economy, he pointed to taxi and airport commissions and the way online services like Uber are "decimating their regulatory fiefdoms."
"Hundreds of businesses have tried to protect their business models by attempting to thwart Internet growth. All to no avail," he said. "The best restaurant in any town will crater to competitors if it doesn't have a top-notch website, business relationships with Internet delivery companies and a social media plan."
Yet, O'Rielly held firm on his belief that Internet access isn't a necessity. An audience member pointed out that "I don't see how I can do without the Internet to get basic government services or apply for a job. To apply for Home Depot you don't go to Home Depot to apply for a job, you go to the Internet."
O'Rielly's reply: "A necessity is food, shelter and water. You don't need the Internet to survive. I am active on the Internet myself. I certainly enjoy the benefits of the Internet; they are very valuable to consumers. I don't think they rise to a necessity."
The commissioner's four remaining principles included understanding how the Internet economy works; following the law rather than making it up; maintaining that Internet access is neither a necessity nor a human right; and realizing that the benefits of regulation must outweigh the burdens.
Sound guidelines, but between the lines, O'Rielly's position was a little muddier. He saw Americans as being "addicted" to the Internet, spending hours on their smartphones daily. The commissioner didn't go into any finer details of what smartphone users might be accessing, such as work email, online video, streaming music or other services.
O'Reilly said during his speech that regulators attempting to categorize Internet access as a necessity or right, as Hillary Clinton did when adding Internet Freedom to the State Department's baseline policy positions during her tenure as Secretary of State, are falling into a "rhetorical trap."
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