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Face Off in Chile: Net Neutrality v. Human Right to Facebook & Wikipedia

BY Jessica McKenzie | Monday, June 2 2014

Photo: Wikipedia

Is Internet access a human right, as important as access to education, healthcare and housing? Mark Zuckerberg thinks so, and it inspired him to launch internet.org, an initiative to connect “the next five billion.” So does the United Nations, which declared Internet access a human right in 2011, one that should not be denied even in times of conflict as a means of quelling unrest. And yet the latest blow to cheap and easy access to the Internet (and by the Internet we mean Facebook, Twitter, and Wikipedia) comes not from an authoritarian state cracking down on an unruly population, but from a government playing by the rules of net neutrality.

Chile's telecommunications regulator Subtel has found zero-rated data usage—in which Internet companies make deals with mobile carriers to offer their services for free, under the assumption that social networks are like gateway drugs for the real Internet (and data fees for the carrier)—illegal under Chilean net neutrality law. This also affects Wikipedia's free service, Wikipedia Zero.

Free access to Wikipedia v. net neutrality?! Hard to know which to root for.

Leo Mirani writes for Quartz that the move is “short-sighted.”

Mirani elaborates:

Chile also has the one of the highest rates [sic] of pre-paid SIM-card use in the OECD. These pre-paying customers are less likely to pay for expensive phones or newfangled services, and they’re exactly the ones that Facebook, Google, Twitter, and Wikipedia (not to mention local Internet service providers) are trying to coax online.

Chile’s decision means Chileans will now have to pay to find out whether this thing called the internet is really for them. That is one more reason for Chileans to delay adoption of the world’s most transformative technology since electricity.

Oddly, this argument is out of step with an earlier Quartz piece about Facebook Zero, which in many ways disparaged the fact that, for many people, Facebook and the Internet seem like one and the same.

Not that Facebook Zero is all bad; as techPresident reported, it has been used in development work in Uganda.

Responding to Mirani for Pando Daily, Nathaniel Mott says we should “commend” Chile for the ruling.

Mott explains:

Consumers pay for Internet connections because it allows them to access whatever they want. They aren’t restricted to just a few websites, and they aren’t living in the filter bubbles created by companies like Google and Facebook to make sure their products become synonymous with “the Internet” in consumers’ minds. Giving Chileans a taste of what the Internet has to offer is admirable — doing it to ensure a steady customer base against which only certain companies can sell advertisements using information that they wouldn’t have otherwise had is less heartwarming.

David Meyer expresses a similar conviction in GigaOm, writing, “Broadly, though, it has the makings of a strategic disaster, stopping Facebook (and any other social network or messaging service) from entrenching itself in the mobile market in an unassailable way. And in the long term, for consumers, that is a very good thing indeed.”

I suppose the best idea won in the end, even if it does cost Chilean users a bit in the short run.

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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