Government-Provided Internet Access, Infrastructures of Free Expression, and the Role of the State
Forthcoming in Mobile Technologies and Access to Knowledge (2018) Ramesh Subramanian & Stefanie Felsberger, eds.
14 Pages Posted: 10 Apr 2017 Last revised: 12 Aug 2017
Date Written: August 11, 2017
If one’s focus zooms out from the infrastructure and technology involved, Internet access networks are speech spaces. When the government is involved in their development or operation, these spaces are provided either in name or in fact by the State; to use the traditional parlance of First Amendment jurisprudence, these networks are publicly owned property over which citizen expression travels. Due to the pace of change, we run the risk of accepting State-provided digital speech spaces unreservedly as part of our communications infrastructure without asking the fundamental questions of what law applies, what is permissible and what the Constitution bars. Societies must not rush to embrace new technology and, in the process, leave behind all of the longstanding protections from government interference that are well established in every other context. It would be ironic, indeed tragic, if the 21st century speaker loses the protections that were unquestionably enjoyed by the speaker who was communicating in government-provided speech spaces long before the iPhone was even invented.
Keywords: First Amendment; Net Neutrality; Communications Law
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