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Guest post by Emily McFadden.
On January 20th, SpaceX confirmed $1 billion in funding from both Google and Fidelity. This partnership partially funds an estimated $10 billion project that will hopefully give rise to a satellite network spanning the globe – and eventually Mars.
Entrepreneur Elon Musk, current CEO and CTO of the company as well as CEO of Tesla Motors, founded SpaceX in 2002. Musk’s highly cooperative nature bodes well for future global Internet access, which would revolutionize communication on multiple levels. While this project may be years off, its possibilities raise questions about how we view the Internet. All countries with Internet access have providers who charge their customers for their services. There are discrepancies between the price and the value when comparing these countries, but it seems the countries that have the best service-to-price ratio are those that leave the market open for competition or make Internet a public utility.
Either of these options would be difficult to enforce: I will only briefly mention the little (if any) room in the U.S. for competition against the big names in Internet providers, and any elected government official would be hard-pressed to introduce a new tax to the American public.
On February 4th, however, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler published an article expressing his support to “implement and enforce open internet protections.” Wheeler has seen the need to maintain the openness and availability of the Internet by moving it into the public sector. This announcement is years in the making and change will not happen overnight. But why is this important?
The Internet now provides the fastest means of transferring information around the world. Do we infringe upon the first amendment by hindering that movement or filtering the information, or restricting access to that information? The Internet might be the sole medium of access to petition, religion, assembly, speech, and press for many people. One could argue that making the inaccessibility of the Internet in its current state impedes on civil rights. By making the Internet an explicit public utility, we give everyone an equal opportunity to access his or her current inalienable rights.
While this argument may seem idealistic or romantic, the once unthought-of dream of providing Wi-Fi to Mars is becoming a reality. We cannot deny that the Internet continues to grow and become ingrained in our everyday lives. Just as the telephone evolved beyond a luxury item for big business and the wealthy and became ubiquitous in most households, the Internet has evolved, too; ~84% of Americans today have Internet connection in their household. While technological curmudgeons might shake their heads at the first selfie taken on Mars, as technology advances, so must our interpretations of its role in society.
Emily McFadden is pursuing a PhD in Biochemistry at Duke University.