Is Internet a Basic Human Right?

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Written by: Aiya Rodjel

In today’s digital society, billions of people worldwide rely on internet access for so many reasons. Of course, digital technology saves us time and effort. Although internet access has been around since the 1960s, it was only in the 1900s that human society has embraced it. This is primarily thanks to the creation of the world wide web.

Fast forward to 2022, and internet access is still an indispensable tool in society. It has been vital for households to have an internet connection to stay productive in their career, education, and everyday life. Hence, it is no surprise that most people invest in a reliable internet provider in the Philippines for their daily needs.

The ongoing pandemic highlighted the importance of universal internet access even further. Pandemic restrictions have limited the mobility of a lot of people. The majority of society has turned to their internet access for important information, their livelihood, and access to necessities. The relevance of culture to internet access begs the question, ‘Is the internet a basic human right?’ In this article, we’ll discuss this matter further.

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Internet Access for Civil and Political Rights

The Right to Internet Access believes that all people must access the Internet to exercise and enjoy their freedom of expression, opinion, and other fundamental human rights. This view maintains that states ensure that Internet access is broadly available. At the same time, states may not unreasonably restrict an individual’s access to the Internet.

Free expression is universally recognized as a human right. Many people exercise their right to express their opinion through the internet. Hence, the view of internet access as a human right is prevalent in the modern world. The importance of internet access goes beyond freedom of expression. The internet has been instrumental in pointing out all the wrong things happening in the world.

Political unrest worldwide, particularly in developing countries, has been widely publicized through the internet. Because the internet is used to impart information, other countries have more pressure to address pressing issues.

The United Nations’ Stance on Internet Access

In June 2016, the United Nations Human Rights Council issued a declaration that online access should be considered a human right. The resolution dictates the importance of “applying a comprehensive human rights-based approach when providing and expanding access to the internet and for the internet to be open, accessible and nurtured.” In essence, the United Nations maintained that universal internet access is part of fundamental human rights.

While viewing internet access as fundamental rights sounds ideal, the universal declaration did not get universal backing from the international community. Some countries remain opposed to this resolution, particularly China, Russia, and South Africa.

In addition to this, the declaration of universal internet access as a human right did not address governmental responsibility to provide access to all. Instead, this declaration focused on stopping governments from ‘taking away’ internet access from people.

On the other hand, the nation-states that violate this declaration will not face penalties if they don’t follow accordingly. While internet access as a human right wasn’t such a pressing issue before, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of internet access.

Despite the advantages internet users enjoy, there is a divide regarding universal access to the internet. Here are the arguments that hold opinions against and for access to the internet as human rights:

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Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

Opinions against Internet Access being a Human Rights

Because internet access provides plenty of benefits, it can be easy to declare that internet access is a part of basic human rights. However, not everyone would maintain that access to the internet should be viewed as a human right.

Vinton Cerf’s View

One of the important figures that argue against universal internet access is Vinton Cerf. Cerf is an internet pioneer and an expert regarded as one of the ‘fathers of the internet.’ He wrote an opinion editorial in The New York Times to detail his opinion on internet access being a human right.

As per Cerf’s stance, for something to be considered a human right, it “must be among the things we as humans need to lead healthy, meaningful lives.” He argued that access to the Internet should enable rights, but not a right itself.

Cerf also attempted to define the difference between civil and political rights in the article. In the end, he argued that the internet is simply a means “to improve the human condition.” He concluded that granting human rights should utilize the internet, but access to the internet should not be considered human rights.

Michael O’Rielly’s Perspective

Another figure who stands against the argument that ‘internet access is a human right’ is Commissioner Michael O’Rielly of the Federal Communications Commission. In a speech before the Internet Innovation Alliance in 2015, he argued that it is not reasonable to view internet access as a human right or a necessity. He maintained this position because people can live and function without technology.

O’Rielly then delved into the distinction between the true sense of the word ‘necessity’ and ‘human rights.’ He defended against the “rhetorical traps” created by movements towards making Internet Access a human right. These definitions are the basis of his governing principles and how he attempts to generate Internet policies with the government and ISPs (Internet Service Providers).

Opinions supporting Internet Access is a Human Rights

While the figures above present good arguments against internet access as a human right, many disagree. For example, Dr. Merten Reglitz, Lecturer in Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham, published a study in defense of internet access being a human right.

According to Reglitz, the internet could be a fundamental way of protecting other basic human rights such as life, liberty, and freedom from torture—a means of enabling billions of people to lead ‘minimally decent lives. Universal internet access is not a luxury but a moral human right.

For Reglitz, everyone should have unmonitored and uncensored access to this global medium—provided free of charge for those unable to afford it. He also added that exercising free speech and obtaining information was now heavily dependent on having internet access. Hence, you would need the world wide web to exercise your other basic human rights.

Essentially, Reglitz argued that access to the web was similar to the global right to health, which cannot require the highest possible medical treatment globally. Many states are too poor to provide such services and thus face impossible demands.

Is universal internet access possible?

As per the non-government organization The World Wide Web Foundation, founded by World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, ‘affordability’ remains one of the most significant but solvable obstacles to universal access. Lowering the cost of broadband connection or fiber internet would be a key component in ensuring universal access to the web.

In turn, several countries have made it possible for more people to access the web affordably. This is prevalent, especially among developed countries. New technologies have paved the way for governments in the European Union to make internet service accessible to their residents.

On the other side of the world is a different story altogether. Plenty of governments find it challenging to help their population exercise their right to freedom of internet access. Technology comes with a hefty price tag, and there are other more pressing issues to address. However, civil society was given a sudden wake-up call about the urgency of universal internet access because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 Impact of Universal Internet Access

The internet has been a key means for the world’s population to remain functional amid pandemic restrictions. The global workforce has relied on internet access to continue business operations and communications internally and externally. It can be argued that having access to the internet has been a savior to humans everywhere.

While access to the internet has a lot of critical benefits, the ongoing pandemic has also exposed the underlying reality that not everyone has the internet in their homes—including millions in the wealthiest countries in the world. The fact of the matter is that a considerable chunk of the impoverished population, especially in developing countries like the Philippines, find it difficult to access the internet, to begin with.

For example, plenty of students around the country finds it difficult to afford the internet service that they need to continue their studies. This digital divide forced millions of students to withdraw themselves from school. In turn, these children get left behind.

Another testament to the role of the world wide web in society is how the majority of the Philippine population has been reliant on the internet for vital information. Plenty of people get updates on the latest news through the internet. Pandemic restrictions in the country change regularly. What might have been the norm this week might change dramatically in the next. Ignorance of the latest rules might lead to detrimental consequences, including monetary penalties or, worse, incarceration.

What the Philippines is doing for internet users

The Philippines may be considered among developing nations, but the country has recognized that access to the internet is integral to the country’s sustainable development. Hence, the Philippine government has actively worked with the private sector to deliver universal internet access.

An example of their efforts is the Department of Information and Communications Technology’s (DICT) Free Wi-Fi for All – Free Public Internet Access Program. This initiative aims to provide Filipinos with free internet access to participate in the growing digital economy. DICT plans to provide free internet access for more Filipinos by setting up free Wi-Fi spots in public spaces.

However, the DICT declared internet access through free Wi-Fi spots is not sustainable. Hence, the government is focusing on “fiberization” to boost internet connection in the country in the following months and years. A fiber backbone will enable more internet service providers to offer a broader audience. With better access to rural areas, these providers can make their fiber internet services more affordable.

In recent years, the Philippines has seen a continuous improvement in internet speed. The expectation on this steady momentum is to accelerate in the coming years. This is because the government has made it easier for companies to fast-track their expansion efforts.

Hence, while the government might view internet access a human right, there are a lot of technical challenges to providing free internet access in the country. This shows how important it is for internet providers to continue developing the internet access situation in the Philippines.

Paving the Way for Universal Internet Access

Streamtech Fiber Internet

The Philippines has a long way to go before Filipinos can enjoy universal access to the internet. However, at least, the country is going in the right direction. Now more than ever, more Filipinos can access fiber internet connection through affordable plans.

With more internet providers in the Philippines comes the opportunity for private companies to be competitive in their prices. Hence, Streamtech is working hard to make internet access more attainable to Filipino families.

Through Streamtech, you can exercise your fundamental right to express yourself on the web. You can also stay productive in the comforts and safety of your home. Streamtech has made it possible for more Filipinos to access the information they need. They can now be up-to-date with the latest protocols. At the same time, Filipinos can keep themselves entertained in the comforts and safety of their homes.

We offer dedicated internet access, leased line, and Wi-Fi services to franchise subscribers powered by our fiber-optic backbone link. Through our fiber plans, subscribers can rest assured of having a fast and reliable connection. Thereby, they will have seamless access to online contents of their needs. Our customers also have access to various channels through our cable TV services.

We understand that we all need access to high-speed, reliable, and unlimited connection, together with dependable service. At the moment, Streamtech is expanding its network and reach nationwide. The end view is to cater to the digital needs of every Filipino. Contact our team to know if Streamtech can service you and your household today.

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