Not only should governments approach access to internet as a human right, but as a fundamental one, like water and electricity.
In 1943, psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper titled “A Theory of Human Motivation”, which has since became represented in psychology in the form of a pyramid as a hierarchy of human needs.
Maslow’s hierarchy consists of five main levels, from bottom to top: physiological needs (like food and water), safety and security needs, love and belonging, esteem, and in the highest level, self-actualization.
According to Maslow, we have to seek to satisfy each need of a given level before moving on to the next in the pyramid. That makes sense. The whole hierarchy will be compromised if we fail to meet the basic needs at the bottom (physiological and security needs).
However, this hierarchy could, and should, adapt to the evolution of our needs, as the nature of fundamental rights itself changes with the evolution of modern societies.
The Basic Right to Broadband and Freedom to Connect
Since 2012, the United Nations considers access to the internet as a human right, stating that every individual has the right to freely connect and express themselves on the internet.
“Any restriction to the right to freedom of expression must meet the strict criteria under international human rights law,” said the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Before that, a 2009-2010 study, conducted by GlobScan for the BBC World Service, which polled over 27,000 adults in 26 countries, found that about four in five individuals (79%) believe in the argument for access to the Internet as a human right.
In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council released a resolution that condemns measures taken by governments to block internet access for any reason whatsoever. This non-binding resolution reaffirmed that “rights that people have offline must also be protected online”.
As you see, there’s no shortage of international resolutions and goodwill decisions and declarations, but how does all this translates into reality?
There’s a slew of other reports and studies that contrast with that and puts some big flies in the ointment.
A Facebook report estimates that over 4 billion people around the world, mostly in developing countries, remain “offline”, with women being up to 50% less likely to have access to the Internet.
This means that over the half of the global population is still missing out on the overarching social and financial benefits of the Internet.
Recently, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development released another report that investigates the state of broadband access in the world, estimating that “connecting the next 1.5 billion people will cost USD 450 billion”.
“Broadband infrastructure is vital country infrastructure, as essential as water and electricity networks,” said Houlin Zhao, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). “The data analysis and policy recommendations contained in the 2018 State of the Broadband report come at a crucial time when Internet access is more important than ever before”.
The report identifies seven key targets for the world governments to work on:
- Making broadband policy universal
- Making broadband affordable
- Getting people online
- Acquiring minimum digital skills and literacy
- Using digital financial services
- Freedom to create businesses online
- Achieving gender equality in access to broadband
The line between online and offline use in social, business, and personal situations is becoming more and more blurred. Over the next decade, this is only set to continue. Restricting or blocking an individual’s access to the Internet is now one of the most effective methods of removing them from our greater global society.