Ronnie05's Blog

Web Access as a Basic Human Right

Posted in Internet and Search by Manas Ganguly on April 19, 2011

Finland and France have legislations in place since 2009 making Internet and web Access the basic right for its citizens. Finland is a step ahead making Broadband as a basic right for its population.

For European and certain other economies, Broadband and internet access as a right could be a possibility. However, Internet p[provision to billions across Africa and Asia is not feasible under current conditions and will possibly take 2 decades to materialize. To many including myself, Web Access may be a frivolous distraction at a time when millions of people still don’t have access to food, clean water, shelter, sanitation and health-care.

A worldwide survey of nearly 28,000 people in 26 countries in early 2010 by the BBC World Service found openness and accessibility to be critical components of the World Wide Web. The survey, conducted by GlobeScan, found 79 percent of people surveyed said access to the Internet was a basic human right and 87 percent of those who used the Internet felt that Internet access should be “the fundamental right of all people.” More than seven in 10 (71 percent) non-Internet users also felt that they should have the right to access the Web. The survey also suggested the Internet has had a positive impact on people’s lives around the world. Nearly four in five (78 percent) said they felt it had brought them greater freedom, nine in 10 (90 percent) said they thought it was a good place to learn, and just over half (51 percent) said they now enjoyed spending their spare time on social networking sites such as Facebook or MySpace. Thus the survey concluded that the Web is a force for good, and most don’t want governments to regulate it.

Most Internet users feel that the government should not regulate the Internet. More than half (53 percent) of Internet users agreed that “the Internet should never be regulated by any level of government anywhere”—including large majorities in South Korea (83 percent), Nigeria (77 percent) and Mexico (72 percent). Forty-four percent admitted that they did not think they could cope without the Internet. Similar reactions were found in Japan (84 percent), Mexico (81 percent), and Russia (71 percent), while fewer felt they could not cope without the Internet in Pakistan (19 percent), the Philippines (21 percent), Turkey (27 percent) and Brazil and India (both 29 percent).

People most commonly identified with the ability of Internet to find information of all sorts (47 percent), with its next most popular aspect being the ability to interact and communicate with people (32 percent). The Internet’s roles as a source of entertainment (12 percent), as a tool to locate, research and buy products and services (five percent), and as a forum for creativity and sharing of content (3 percent). Fraud (32%) emerged as a greater public concern than violent and explicit content, which was mentioned by 27 percent, and threats to privacy, which were the major concerns of one in five people (20 percent).

While, it’s tempting to consider internet access a luxury, but considering the increased quality of life that comes with the huge jump in access to cultural and logistical information the internet brings. Internet access in a time of democratized online publishing may be understood as a contemporary form of the right to self-expression. It could also be understood as part of basic access to public services in an increasingly online world. The various Twitter and Facebook fed revolutions starting from the Iran Unrest to Jasmine Revolution, Libya, Egypt, China and even India Anti-graft brigade bear testimony to the power and the scale of self expression of the commoner.

Corey Doctorow has predicted that in five years, a UN convention will enshrine network access as a human right (preemptive strike against naysayers: “Human rights” aren’t only water, food and shelter, they include such “nonessentials” as free speech, education, and privacy). In ten years, we won’t understand how anyone thought it wasn’t a human right.

Another report by Christian Science Monitor published an year back names overwhelming percentages of populations in certain countries voting for Internet access as a basic right. Interestingly, most of these countries are not the high per capita opulent states. Rather the trend that seems to be emerging is that countries who have large populations who are striving to make their mark on a global stage are the ones where Internet access is being voted as a basic right. Of the 11 nations, 8 are a mix of Latin and South America and Asian states. Maybe this has to do with Internet’s ability as a platform to democratize information and make it available to every body around.

The relevance of Internet as a delivery mechanism for information and content is unparalleled, but what is emerging is Internet as a form of expression and platform of equality. That strengthens its clamor as a Basic human right. While there are economic, political, infrastructural and political challenges to such a huge legislation, there is a scope where-upon states can identify time bound programmes for internet access to majorities of its population. Amongst other things, Internet could be useful in alleviating a lot of issues and problems that exist in the world today.

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