The Case for the Internet: A Human Right

In a little noticed story, late last month, Finland declared internet access to be a legal right for all its citizens, and come this July, the Finish government will be ensuring everyone in the country has at least a 1 megabit internet connection (and by 2015 the legal right will be to a 100 megabit connection). In addition, France made headlines in June by declaring internet access to be a human right. (Incidentally France also declared that all 18 year olds will get a one year free newspaper subscription for their 18th birthday), although they have yet to figure out how to enforce this. These two examples raise quite an interesting question, is the internet a fundamental human right? I'm going to boldly stand with the Finns on this one and say yes.

I might get some angry emails for this, and while today it might be difficult to make the case that internet access is as much of a basic right as food or shelter, in five or ten years, I believe there will be basic agreement on this. Those of us who have internet access now, don't know how we would live without it. Everything we do and everything we want to do is somehow linked to our computer and our internet connection. It's not a joke to say that those who have internet connections now need them to continue surviving. It's how we communicate with our relatives and friends, it's how we find phone numbers and addresses, it's how we get our basic goods and services, it's how most of us work and keep our jobs, and by extension provide for our families, and it's how many people find jobs. Many of us have jobs that would be impossible to maintain without the internet, without the ability to do research or send emails we would be fired in a day.

So if people who are online now actually cannot survive without internet connections, if it allows people to advance in their careers and life position, if it is an invaluable tool, shouldn't we afford everyone the right to have it? In fact, it seems not having internet access could be the biggest barrier to entry in just about any field or aspect of society today. If we want everyone to have the opportunity to advance in society, giving everyone internet access is a great way to make some progress.

Public libraries, one of our country's most vaunted institutions offer an interesting insight. Libraries in recent years have become most sought after for their free internet access. Librarians across the country have gone into new training to learn how to assist people with internet searches and usage. And during the economic crisis, what was the most prevalent reason for people coming into libraries to use the internet? To find jobs. Luckily--right now--we have functioning libraries, but what will we do when libraries start to shutter in major cities as they have already?

Add to that the seeming reality that basic government and functional services that are available in person, might soon be forced to shut down or go entirely online. Take the United States Postal Service as an example. For those of us who don't have internet access, and thus can't email people, we have to rely on the post office. With the postal service dying a slow but seemingly sure death, it is not unlikely that regular mail service will become greatly ineffective or perhaps defunct in the near future. If that happens, it will be more and more essential for people to have working internet connections.

But perhaps most fundamental, is that part of the human experience is that we interact with other people, we are social animals, we distinguish ourselves from all other beings by being able to speak and communicate in highly complex ways. For thousands of years that's meant speech, writing, radio, television, and now the internet. The internet has become without a doubt a fundamental part of human interaction, depriving some people who don't have access to the internet of that part of the human experience--because they can't afford it--is violating a human right. I hope that other countries, including this one, will follow the lead of Finland and France and grant internet access as a human right to their citizens.