It’s the modern world, so as soon as you wake up in the morning it’s grab your smartphone before you get out of bed, check your Facebook and Twitter, and weather. When you drag yourself out of bed, you probably take the laptop to the breakfast table to read the news, check the bank account, read e-mail, do some more Facebook and Twitter, play a quick game, etc. Personal and family communication, shopping and business transactions, and information and entertainment… our lives are increasingly conducted online, and increasingly we are mobile always connected 24 hours a day never turned off virtual creatures. It’s so normal now that we take it for granted and can’t imagine how we would survive otherwise.
According to ahumanright.org, an organization that promotes internet access as a basic human right, 68% of the world does not have internet access. The “digital divide” is the idea of an inequality that prevents those without internet access from being able to fully participate in global society.
The United Nations has officially recognized the idea of internet access as a human right in conjunction with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
“4. We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers.”“
Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, and Spain have already adopted the idea into their legal systems and have mandated access for anyone who desires internet access, and have had court cases that upheld the opinion that you cannot cut off internet service for non-payment or even in cases of copyright infringement. In South Korea, the most wired country in the world with 98.6 % of the population online and a government supported national broadband system, it is literally impossible to function without internet access.
Supporting internet access as a right raises some interesting questions, and it’s important to remember that the model of internet usage here is not the same model as elsewhere. We started with the idea of the home PC, then the laptop, and then on to smartphones, and it’s not unusual for an American household to have a number of these devices all going at the same time. In other places, the model has always been public usage in internet cafes with no connectivity at home, which can also make it easier for governments to control and limit information. In many countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, widespread usage is just beginning by going directly to smartphones and usage is almost entirely by phone.
It’s a complicated issue with lots of questions of best implementation, government involvement and regulation, openness and censorship, criminal activity, security, and business practices, but it seems clear that this is the direction the world is moving in and we need to think of the issues and legal questions now.