Free Internet access must be considered as a human right

It could enable billions of people to lead 'minimally decent lives'.

It is hard to imagine life without the internet. It’s true and has been for some time that the Internet is connecting more people at a faster rate than ever before.

We seemingly love the Internet. And for that love, some have a deep wish to be connected consistently. What’s more, we have switched on The Internet of Things or ‘IoTs.’

In an increasingly technological world, more businesses, services, etc. have moved online. Without Internet access, it can be harder for people to search for and apply for jobs, access services from their bank, or complete work and school assignments. If the Internet is now considered to be a fundamental human right, shouldn’t it be free for all?

A new study by the University of Birmingham has put the idea that free internet access should be fundamental human rights, suggesting that as people unable to get online – particularly in developing countries – lack meaningful ways to influence the global players shaping their everyday lives.

According to the study, the free internet access could be an essential way of protecting other basic human rights such as life, liberty, and freedom from torture. Meanwhile, it could enable billions of people to lead ‘minimally decent lives.’

Dr. Merten Reglitz, Lecturer in Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham, said, “Internet access is no luxury, but instead a moral human right and everyone should have unmonitored and uncensored access to this global medium – provided free of charge for those unable to afford it.”

“Without such access, many people lack a meaningful way to influence and hold accountable supranational rule-makers and institutions. These individuals don’t have a say in the making of the rules they must obey and which shape their life chances.”

“Exercising free speech and obtaining information was now heavily dependent on having internet access. Much of today’s political debate took place online, and politically relevant information is shared on the internet – meaning the relative value these freedoms held for people ‘offline’ had decreased.”

Dr. Reglitz knows that just being online does not guarantee these rights; thus, he cited examples of internet engagement that helped hold Government and institutions to account. The examples are as follows:

  • The ‘Arab Spring’- new ways of global reporting on government atrocities.
  • Documenting unjustified police violence against African Americans in the US.
  • MeToo campaign – helping to ‘out’ sexual harassment of women by powerful men.

According to Dr. Reglitz, Moral human rights can be defined as based on universal interests essential for a ‘minimally decent life.’ They must also be of such fundamental importance that if a nation is unwilling or unable to uphold these rights, the international community must step in.

The study also enlisted institutions which have offered universal access for their populations, convinced that this goal is affordable:

  • The Indian state of Kerala has declared unlimited internet access a human right and aims to provide it for its 35 million people by 2019.
  • The European Union has launched the WiFi4EU initiative to provide ‘every European village and city with free wireless internet access around main centers of public life by 2020.
  • Global internet access is part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, with the UN demanding states help to deliver universal Internet access in developing nations.

Dr. Reglitz highlighted the fact that many people in more inferior parts of the world are still unable to access the Internet. However, their number is decreasing as technology becomes slower.

Dr. Reglitz said, “Universal internet access need not cost the earth – accessing politically important opportunities such as blogging, obtaining information, joining virtual groups, or sending and receiving emails does not require the latest information technology.”

“Web-capable phones allow people to access these services, and public internet provision, such as public libraries, can help get people online where individual domestic access is initially too expensive.”

“The human right to internet access was similar to the global right to health, which cannot require the highest possible medical treatment globally, as many states are too poor to provide such services and thus would face impossible demands.”

This first of its kind study is published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy.

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