Opinion: U.S. can learn from German court’s internet ruling

Kevin Griffin

Kevin Griffin

Throughout history, eras have been defined based on a dominant material, machine or medium that was prominent – something without which that particular era would be inconceivable.

In our own time, that medium is undoubtedly the Internet. The Internet dominates key social, political, economic, artistic and informational aspects of our lives.

Humans have always found ways to express these needs, but right now, their prime medium of expression is the Internet.
This being the case, we have to find a way to accommodate the freedoms and social functions we have long held valuable while using the Internet.

A step in this direction came earlier this week when a German court ruled that the Internet is an “essential part of life” and awarded damages to customers whose service had been “disrupted,” according to the Stars and Stripes’ report.

This may seem to be a somewhat silly ruling. Saying that the Internet is “essential” to life is in some sense making it a right.
This becomes less ridiculous when we realize that we have freedom of speech and press, which are rights most Americans value.

And in the 21st century, these rights are often expressed through the Internet.

Yes, it is possible to exercise these rights to some degree without the Internet, but to make the most effective use of those rights, one must then use the medium that everyone else is using.

I do not believe the Internet itself is a right, but it does deserve special protection as this generation’s most effective way of expressing our jealously guarded freedoms.

And at the moment, things are far from ideal.

According to the Federal Communication Commissions’ Eighth Annual Broadband Progress Report from August 2012, “19 million Americans…  still lack access” to broadband. The Appalachian region, of which we as students have become residents, has frequently been pointed out as needing improvement in the area of reliable Internet access.

This issue has potential for a great impact on the U.S.

We as a nation could follow the spirit of that German court ruling in realizing that the Internet is, at least for the moment, an integral part of society, and that we should do what we can to extend it to all of our citizens.

Griffin, a freshman journalism major from Madison, is the opinion editor.