FCC Commissioner: Internet Access Is Not a ‘Basic Human Right’

Rudy Takala | June 30, 2015 | 12:47pm EDT
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Federal Communications Commissioner Michael O'Rielly. (FCC)

(CNSNews.com) -- Federal Communications Commission (FCC) member Michael O'Rielly says it is "ludicrous to compare Internet access to a basic human right."

“Human rights are standards of behavior that are inherent in every human being,” O’Rielly said Thursday in a speech to the Internet Innovation Alliance, a coalition of business and non-profit organizations.

“They are the core principles underpinning human interaction in society. These include liberty, due process or justice, and freedom of religious beliefs.

“I find little sympathy with efforts to try to equate Internet access with these higher, fundamental concepts,” O'Rielly stated.

Internet access is not even a day-to-day necessity, the commissioner added.  

“It is important to note that Internet access is not a necessity in the day-to-day lives of Americans and doesn’t even come close to the threshold to be considered a basic human right,” O’Rielly said.

“People do a disservice by overstating its relevancy or stature in people’s lives. People can and do live without Internet access, and many lead very successful lives,” he continued.

“Instead, the term ‘necessity’ should be reserved to those items that humans cannot live without, such as food, shelter, and water.”

His comments come shortly after the commission’s June 18 vote to extend the “Lifeline” telephone subsidy to Internet access. The $9.25 monthly subsidy was originally enacted in 1985 to subsidize landline telephone access for low-income Americans. A proposal to expand the subsidy to help pay for Internet access passed on a 3-2 party line vote.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said at the time that applying the subsidy to Internet service was necessary to “ensure that all Americans have access to vital communications services.”

He also bemoaned the fact that around one-third of Americans do not have high speed Internet and described it as a class issue, saying, “Nearly 30 percent of Americans still don’t have broadband at home, and low-income consumers disproportionately lack access.”

Polling data suggests that while some Americans may not have access to broadband Internet, most do have access to some form of Internet.

A study published by Pew Research in September found that just 15 percent of Americans reported not using the Internet at all, while only three percent reported that they did not use the Internet due to financial reasons.

And one-third of those without any access to Internet simply “are not interested, do not want to use it, or have no need for it,” Pew reported.

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