Last summer, Mozilla held a symposium called “The Internet as a Public Good Symposium.” (Not very creative, but very google-friendly for the topic of this post). Harvard Law School defines a public good as non-rivalrous and non-excludable. This means that one person using of it does not affect another person’s, and it is available to everyone and nobody can be prevented from using it.
Unfortunately, this is not the case today as plenty can’t afford access making it quite excludable. Mozilla is the creator of Firefox and Thunderbird, free software that is quite popular. Mozilla is paving the way for the future because they make money on the Internet but don’t see that as the sole purpose of it. They recognize the internet’s potential and also recognize how quickly that potential can diminish if it’s not used right. A major argument at the symposium is that, by establishing it as a public good, the public will monitor the internet and squash abusers.
I believe this to be the most powerful point. If Internet access is portrayed to the public as a right, then they will watch it closer. Compare it to the highway system. Imagine a world where highways were maintained by anyone. (Money is not a factor in this hypothetical). There is a highway that is owned by a man with a tire store at the end of it and he sprinkles it with nails to bring in business. Nobody can do anything but know to avoid that highway, leaving the ignorant to fall victim to his trap.
As a public good, people could bring that guy to jail and he would know that and be far less likely to abuse the system. People are far less willing to trash a house if the party’s at their own place. Why not make the Internet everyone’s own place?
This is a very theoretical issue that I don’t expect to happen tomorrow. If it did, it would probably be done wrong. The idea of thinking of Internet access like access to clean water is going to help our world change for the better.