Should the internet be a human right?
We rage at internet outages as loudly as losing water and electricity.
There are more than seven billion people on the planet, but not all of them live equally. We know of huge disparities in the quality of life for billions of people in the poorest areas of our world, whether it’s through a lack of money or natural resources – or something as simple as a lack of running water. An absence of potable water can cause people to die – and millions do, every year.
But one thing we don’t consider is whether the internet should be a fundamental human right.
A simple look at the social media feeds of the world’s internet service providers gives you an indication of how strongly people feel when their internet connection drops. People rant and rave at the lack of connection – something we feel even more strongly now we’re mostly working from home and require always-on, reliable internet.
But are those people right to feel angry when they’re disconnected? Is access to high quality internet something that should be a minimum requirement for every human being on Earth?
Far from achieving that goal
If it’s something that should happen, we’re far from being close to it happening. Roughly half the world’s population doesn’t have any kind of internet connection. Though there are more mobile phones than people on the earth, that doesn’t extend to internet connections. The digital divide is a deep chasm for those without the internet – particularly as we move to a more digital society, sped up by the pandemic, which means more and more of our lives are expected to be transacted online.
In the West, doctors appointments, bank statements and important meetings for medicine are all done through the internet nowadays – and those who are unable to access the world wide web are often left feeling like second class citizens.
But it’s not just the absence of the internet that can stoke resentment and leave people feeling disenfranchised. The standard of the connection we receive plays a big part in the likelihood of our future development, and our ability to thrive in this increasingly digital society.
Speed and reliability are key
We’ve seen heartbreaking stories of ethnic minority children in the United States forced to camp out in car parks in order to access a reliable wifi connection to be able to access online teaching from their school.
As more of our formative lives such as education is transacted online, the ability to get an always-on, semi-reliable internet connection is going to become more difficult – and more important than ever.
People who live in indigenous populations, and those who belong to ethnic minority groups, are more likely to be disproportionately affected by low-quality internet connections.
Not only is electricity access throttled – making it difficult for them to power hardware that drains battery quicker on video calls – but they’re more likely to have less reliable internet connections.
Many have no fixed internet connection to their home, instead relying on tethering devices to patchy phone-based connections that can falter.
Should the internet be a right for all?
It’s caused many to feel that the internet should be an absolute human right – particularly in 2020.
“Subsidies may be needed so that all households — including disadvantaged groups and those in rural and remote areas — have access to quality internet, and to ensure there is no digital gender gap.”says the International Monetary Fund
They highlight examples of countries that are already doing that, ensuring that the digital divide is bridged as effectively as possible. El Salvador, Malaysia and Nepal have introduced internet fee discounts or waivers.
Doing that can help ensure that people are not left behind as the world continues to evolve, and maintaining an equality and equity in everything that happens, regardless of your upbringing or where you live.