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Boston Globe: Yes, broadband is a necessity

Kvetching about the high cost or sluggish speed of your Internet service used to be the ultimate first-world gripe. So what if YouTube puppy videos kept buffering, or a three-minute pop song took five minutes to download? If the monthly bill seemed stiff, well, the service was optional anyway.

But yesterday’s luxury is today’s ticket to full participation in society. Hence the philosophical debate brewing within the Federal Communications Commission: When should Americans declare high-speed Internet a necessity — and revamp the laws to improve access and bring prices down?

Now.

Late last month, Michael O’Rielly, a Republican member of the FCC, raised eyebrows within the technology press by insisting that Internet access isn’t a necessity. “People can and do live without Internet access,” he argued, “and many lead very successful lives.” (Hat tip to the news website Ars Technica, which has covered the debate closely.)

In an ironic turn, O’Rielly, who’s sided with incumbent broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon in the bruising debate over net neutrality, is playing down the day-to-day importance of the product they’re selling.

His argument sat poorly with Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat on the five-member FCC, who countered in a speech last Wednesday that most Fortune 500 companies post job listings only online. “Not a necessity,” she scoffed, “where, in a growing number of states, those who are income-eligible can only apply for benefits or aid online? Not a necessity, when colleges and universities post and accept student admissions electronically?”