Is the internet a basic human right?

Freedom of expression, the right to a fair trial and freedom from discrimination. These are just a few of the fundamental rights that we consider to be necessities; things that no human being should be without. They have all also been highly prized for centuries, perhaps even millennia, and they continue to be defended to this day. However, with the important role that the internet now plays in so many aspects of our daily lives, some are beginning to ask whether this too should be considered as a basic human right.

[easy-tweet tweet=”With the important role that the internet plays in many aspects of our daily lives, is it a human right?” hashtags=”tech, internet”]

For many of us, life without the internet is inconceivable, despite the technology’s relative youth. We communicate with it, we shop with it, we bank with it and we use it to learn. For the generation defined as “millennials,” life and the internet are intertwined. However, this has also caused many of us to take the internet for granted. Around 60 percent of the world’s population remains without internet access but even in the UK where this figure is substantially lower, more needs to be done to improve online connectivity.

A recent report by the Local Government Association (LGA) asserted that broadband – the high-speed form of internet that the majority of us experience – should be made more affordable to the poor. Although the report did not specify a suitable rate, it did suggest that social tariffs should be included within the government’s broadband Universal Service Obligation (USO) to subsidise contracts for low-income families.

The USO is the UK government’s attempt to ensure reliable, affordable broadband access for everyone that requires it. What this means in practice, however, is difficult to define. The LGA have stated that the USO should incorporate a minimum speed of 10mbps subsidised by ISPs, but already that figure has come under scrutiny. While 10mbps may be suitable for today’s range of digital services, it is likely to become insufficient in the near future as our reliance on the internet grows.

Aside from affordability, the LGA report raises another salient point on how broadband connectivity can be improved. Nearly one in four adults (approximately 12 million people) do not possess the basic online skills required to access and use digital services. Evidently, more needs to be done to educate the UK populace, particularly given all of the benefits that the internet can provide.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Online access can be a great way of tackling social isolation, particularly amongst the elderly.” hashtags=”tech, internet”]

Online access can be a great way of tackling social isolation, particularly amongst the elderly. However, this social group can often be the one most lacking in the skills and financial means to get online. The internet is also increasingly a necessity for job seekers, with many applications only taking place online – in this respect, internet connectivity can also provide career opportunities and social mobility.

It is important to remember that human rights, even those that seem so fundamental, have evolved over time and as such, must adapt to new developments. In 2010 Finland became the first country to recognise internet access as a legal right for every citizen and several polls have revealed that a similar opinion exists across the globe. Digital services are already a vital part of our everyday lives, but their importance is only set to grow – if the internet is not already a basic human right, it certainly will be in the not-too-distant future.

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