Sunday, October 2, 2022

Should Internet be a Human Right?

"And are our conceptions of rights doomed by their own success?"

Englishmen thought it an intolerable Hardship, when (tho’ by an Act of their own Parliament) Thoughts, which should be free, were fetter’d and confin’d, and an Officer was erected over the Nation, call’d a Licenser of the Press, without whose Consent no Writing could be publish’d. Care might indeed be taken in the Choice of this Officer, that he should be a Man of great Understanding, profound Learning, and extraordinary Piety. Yet, as the greatest and best of Men may have some Errors, and have been often found averse to some Truths, it was justly esteem’d a National Grievance that the People should have Nothing to read but the Opinions, or what was agreeable to the Opinions of ONE MAN.

—Benj. Franklin, Printer, 1740

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted, "Starlink — here. Thanks, @elonmusk” He included a snapshot of a truck full of fold-up satellite terminals arriving from the Polish border.

Musk tweeted back, "You are most welcome.” 

By May, there were 150,000 active daily users in Fedorov's country. Fifteen thousand terminals—about the size of a pizza box and capable of being powered from a car cigarette lighter—were in use by the end of that month. Russia’s attempts to block or scramble Ukraine’s internet access were effectively thwarted. Not only could Ukrainians talk to other Ukrainians, they could also communicate accurate information about what was happening to them to the outside world.

It seems unlikely Musk will win a Peace Prize—Greta Thunberg has the inside track for that particular Nobel this year—but Musk's generosity towards Ukraine should not go unnoticed. In the hands of the Territorial Defense Force, Starlink became a weapon. Militias quickly learned to rig three DJI Mavic 3 consumer drones into a relay system to maintain continuous surveillance of a target, such as a column of tanks or a missile battery. Enemy location coordinates were sent back in real-time to a recon unit, which relayed the video feed via Starlink to an artillery battery. The battery even got to see real-time video of their shells landing.

Now Musk is getting requests from Iran.

Recently Global Village Institute got a notice on its Starlink office account in SE Mexico. Starlink let us know that the monthly fee would soon be reduced to half, from 2200 pesos per month ($110 or €110) to 1100 pesos per month ($55 or €55). We have yet to see that on our monthly billing, so we’re still a bit skeptical, but it did make us think.

Space-X performed its first humanitarian service by placing its space-based internet across the digital divide, something the Big Telecoms failed miserably at for 30 years, despite massive incentives from public coffers. If you live in a rural county in Appalachia, Minnesota, or Northern Oregon, or on an Indian Reservation, your chance of having access to broadband is still slim in 2022. The many advantages of living in rural areas outweigh the hardships or people wouldn’t live there, but as we move education, health care, voting, and other vital parts of civic life to the Cloud, without good internet the balance tips in favor of migration to some city where an umbilical to the Matrix can be jacked into.

Starlink is still not available in about a third of the United States—vast spaces of data desert—but as more satellites reach orbit, those dead zones will shrink and then disappear (likely in 2023-24). Then the only barrier will be price. Once capitalization costs are recovered and repair, replacement, and maintenance costs are standardized, one might ask what is a reasonable profit margin for the world’s wealthiest human? Can it be free?

Might the prices gradually come down to a very minimal monthly fee, or even be provided free, as a public service? Why didn’t Jimmy Carter do this already? What is Joe Biden waiting for?

Having nearly free internet offers real hope in places where journalists are being targeted for assassination, like Israel, Brazil, Mexico, and Saudi Arabia. Granted, raw feeds from amateur newsers are not as reliable as curated and vetted stories can be, but better open access than no access at all. That is what Julian Assange has been saying for years.

This leads to the larger questions of whether, in this chrysalis, cyberamphibian stage of our transhumanist journey, we should all be given fair access to the metaverse; whether fostering such dependency is wise or healthy; and whether democracy with a small D, writ large, is really all Franklin, Jefferson and Adams had it cracked up to be.

What is a Right?

There has been a steady creep of things we humans consider human rights, which is probably a good thing but isn’t that more a function of affluent societies having the best of everything by drawing down non-renewable resources at steadily rising rates, and so, having abundant energy slaves and appliances, caring less about preserving slavery, race and gender discrimination, and income inequality? Won’t that same trend be doomed by its own success and eventually reverse? Take away daycare and washing machines and what do moderns—Homo Colossus, as historian William Catton called us—become? Is energy starvation the bane of The Enlightenment?

Make no mistake, the energy supply is shrinking, not growing, rumors of commercially available Chinese fusion reactors by 2028 notwithstanding. OPEC+ is now producing below its targets by a record 3.58 million barrels per day despite record demand. The Ukraine/Russian embargo and busted pipelines will take another 2.4 mbd off the market this winter.

“As natural gas demand around the world breaks new records, U.S. shale producers are struggling to keep up with demand. While natural gas prices in the United States fell after a railway strike was averted last week, it looks likely that prices both at home and abroad will spike this winter. A hotter-than-expected summer and a lack of alternative energy sources have left U.S. inventories below the seasonal average."

   — Irina Slav, Oilprice.com

 


In these conditions, cheapening or free internet powered by a car battery is a blessing. We can at least talk to distant friends while we toast our can of beans over the open fire. Should it be a human right? That’s a slippery slope, but we feel intuitively it will do more good than harm.

In 1731, Franklin was taking particular heat from Philadelphia clergymen over an advertisement he printed in the Gazette. He admitted no wrongdoing but pointed out that

[T]hey who follow Printing being scarce able to do anything in their way of getting a Living which shall not probably give Offense to some, and perhaps to many; whereas the Smith, the Shoemaker, the Carpenter, or the Man of any other Trade may work indifferently for People of all Persuasions without offending any of them; and the Merchant may buy and sell with Jews, Turks, Heretics, and Infidels of all sorts, and get Money by every one of them….

Today he might be canceled for associating Jews and Turks with Heretics and Infidels. But Franklin went on to say,

That it is unreasonable to imagine Printers approve of everything they print and to censure them on any particular thing accordingly, since in the way of their Business they print such great variety of things opposite and contradictory. It is likewise as unreasonable what some assert, That Printers ought not to print anything but what they approve, since if all of that Business should make such a Resolution, and abide by it, an End would thereby be put to Free Writing, and the World would afterwards have nothing to read but what happen’d to be the Opinions of Printers.

And that is the whole point of censorship, why it was prohibited in the Constitution (the same one that young printer later went on to influence), and why Elon should at least be on the Peace Prize shortlist for what he did for Ukraine.

________________

 Towns, villages and cities in Ukraine are being bombed every day. As refugees pour out into the countryside, ​they must rest by day so they can travel by night. Ecovillages and permaculture farms have organized something like an underground railroad to shelter families fleeing the cities, either on a long-term basis or temporarily, as people wait for the best moments to cross the border to a safer place, or to return to their homes if that becomes possible. So far there are 62 sites in Ukraine and 265 around the region. They are calling their project “The Green Road.”

The Green Road also wants to address the ongoing food crisis at the local level by helping people grow their own food, and they are raising money to acquire farm machinery and seed, and to erect greenhouses. The opportunity, however, is larger than that. The majority of the migrants are children. This will be the first experience in ecovillage living for most. They will directly experience its wonders, skills, and safety. They may never want to go back. Those that do will carry the seeds within them of the better world they glimpsed through the eyes of a child.

Those wishing to make a tax-deductible gift can do so through Global Village Institute by going to http://PayPal.me/greenroad2022 or by directing donations to greenroad@thefarm.org.

There is more info on the Global Village Institute website at https://www.gvix.org/greenroad



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1 comment:

Robert Gillett said...

Perhaps the professor teaching my Systems Theory class, Dr. John Baras at the University of Maryland, should be awarded the Nobel Prize for driving the extension of the Internet to satellite platforms. Working with Anthony Ephremides, Baras created algorithms and protocols by which Internet services can be delivered over satellite, beginning with the introduction and demonstration of the first working broadband Internet over satellite protocol in 1994. https://eng.umd.edu/ihof/john-baras#

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