Why Internet Access Really is a Basic Human Right
A brief history of the internet
The first working inter-connected network of computers came
about in the 1960s when ARPANET (the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network)
was created. This first prototype of the internet connected multiple computers,
allowing them to communicate on a unified network, albeit a private one. The
technology spread slowly after its inception, but it wasn’t until the 70’s when
the TCP/IP protocol was invented, setting forward the standards of
communication between multiple isolated networks. ARPANET adopted TCP/IP in the
early 80’s, helping assemble the network of all networks, which subsequently
became the internet. The rest is history.
Do we really need the Internet?
Although the internet’s humble and highly specialized
beginnings initially made it exclusive to a small network of scientists,
military personnel and hobbyists, today it’s hard to imagine any modern
operational, finance, administrative, or legal system working without this
omni-present network of servers hosting websites, applications, data, and
cloud-based software (SaaS).
Although some perceive this to be an exaggerated notion
perpetuated by none other than the technocrats who created it, saying that not
having access to the internet can be limiting to individuals isn’t too much of
an overstatement. Today, by accessing the internet we can rent and buy
properties, transfer money and pay bills, book appointments and apply for jobs,
check on medical test results, work remotely, and so much more. And we’re not talking about dial-up internet
speed, which is still a reality in developing nations and even remote rural
parts of America – to accomplish meaningful tasks online high-speed internet provided
by cable or DSL at the lower end and fiber optics or LTE at the higher end, is often
A legitimate human right
In a world dominated by technology and computers, the right
to internet access has recently been labelled the latest of basic human rights
by none other than the United Nations. In their non-binding
resolution, the UN states that, next to freedom of thought and
expression, unfettered internet access is a basic right of all humans.
This premise is based on the principle that the internet,
as such, has become an essential source of information, commerce, and freedom
of expression – so much so that all citizens should be able to partake at their
volition. Subsequently, the rights and responsibilities of individuals offline
must apply to them online, too. Although access to the internet might be taken
for granted in developed nations, in many others it isn’t the norm just yet. Protecting
the freedom of expression in those nations is still an ongoing challenge.
What’s net neutrality got to
do with it?
Most proponents of the belief that the internet is a basic human right are also in favor of net neutrality. The latter refers to the notion that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not prioritize any internet communications based on financial incentives, and that all packets should be treated equally, regardless of the content, platform, type of equipment or communication method used. At this time, much of the internet’s fast lane traffic is dedicated to corporations able to afford preferential treatment by ISPs.
The UN’s resolution on the internet supports the principles of net neutrality and establishes access to it as a critical resource that must be made public to all, despite the fact that much of the infrastructure which allows it to function is owned by private parties.