Should Broadband Access be a Right? I Say Yes

And I’m not alone. Countries such as France, Greece, Estonia, Spain and Finland have already moved to make it a right for their citizens.

I know this can be a complicated topic to discuss,  as Ange Fitzpatrick points when cast against the civil rights and women’s rights struggles internet access seems laughable.

Thomas Jefferson admirably covers all bases when he describes the unalienable rights as including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but I think anyone would struggle to convincingly tack on to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and a high speed internet connection. What would be next- a flat screen TV?

Yet, there is so much more happening online, it is a huge source of information, a tool for communication. As Dr. Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union, states

“The right to communicate cannot be ignored,”

“The internet is the most powerful potential source of enlightenment ever created.”

“We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate.”

He concluded that governments must “regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water”.  We can not look at internet access as a frivolous tool that allows people to update their Facebook status and watch YouTube videos all day.  A huge portion of life is moving online and not just the fun stuff, things like government forms, health care and banking. We need to take action.

Eric Newton, of the  John S. and James L. Knight Foundation points out:

In the past, we grew because we built the railroads and highways we needed to haul people and their physical things across this vast continent. Today, we will not grow unless we build the technology we need to haul our ideas and innovations around the world. Nearly two dozen other nations now rank ahead of the United States in high-speed broadband.

Minorities, senior citizens, people with disabilities, people with lower education levels, those with lower incomes, and the chronically ill are significantly less likely to have high speed internet access at home.  I think Knight Foundation’s President and CEO Alberto Ibargüen says it best:

“Broadband access for all is essential to meeting the information needs of communities in a democracy. Without it, we’ll end up with a new category of second-class citizens. With it, everyone will be able to harness the social and economic opportunities of the digital age.”

Access to online information, services and communities is no longer a perk but a fundamental aspect of life as a participant and contributor in society.

As an aside – While I applaud the National Broadband Plan, as I have pointed out before, I’m concerned about the lack of education and training included.  Even with the implementation of the fiber network needed to ensure high-speed internet access there is still the cost of hardware and monthly subscription fees.  While public libraries provide a stop-gap in the access issue many of them have usage time limits, limited hours due to funding cuts, limited staff to assist patrons who are unfamiliar with computers or the online world.  Giving someone access to the internet without any instruction is like handing someone keys to a new car without any instruction.  They have a rough idea of how its done and it will be rough going for a while but they’ll figure it out or there will be an accident.  The proposed Digital Literacy Corps is one possible solution, lets just hope it plays out.

20 thoughts on “Should Broadband Access be a Right? I Say Yes

  1. @librarianbyday In this day and age, yes it should be a right. The problem lies in the definition of broadband.


      1. @librarianbyday That’s one of the issues. Is a iPhone a broadband device? What about an iPad? Does it have to be wires and computers?


  2. It’s been very interesting to get a view of this from outside the UK. Our previous government took bold steps to provide access via the public library network for those unable to get online; I don’t know what will happen now we have a new one. I worry because this is the kind of thing that seems attractive to cut or ignore in the short time, but as knowledge economies we are restricting ourselves by not investing now. The Finnish example suggests that governments need to step in to cover the areas private companies aren’t prepared to network.

    An eloquently rendered piece, and thank you for the mention. Ange


    1. It is interesting to look at the approach other countries are taking. The other concern I have is that while providing the access is great what about the hardware and monthly fees and knowledge?


  3. I think it’s even better to compare broadband access to radio and television, which the US government already considers a “right” of its citizens in order to stay informed, which is why both are required to broadcast for free over the air.


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