Red Alert

Internet access a fundamental right?

Posted by on March 9th, 2010

Almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right, says a BBC World Service poll.

The survey – of more than 27,000 adults across 26 countries – found strong support for net access on both sides of the digital divide.

Countries such as Finland and Estonia have already ruled that access is a human right for their citizens.

International bodies such as the UN are also pushing for universal net access.

Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), told BBC News that governments must “regard the internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water”.

This is what I’ve been saying for a while. I first wrote about it last July.

There’s been a lot of discussion about this issue in recent times in countries right around the world. Not much in New Zealand, though, other than via this blog and no doubt a few other forums, such as Internet NZ and other web communities.

The National Government don’t seem interested. I’ve been writing about it for a while and believe that we there must be a public discussion soon about these issues.

As a government, you can’t be introducing a new piece of major infrastructure (ultrafast broadband) without seriously considering what it can and should be used for and who should have access. But this one is.

Note that this government is quiet on all these issues, as well as the issues of universal access. People who live in rural areas will receive a lesser broadband service than those who live in cities. And there’s no plan yet on when and how they’ll receive that service, in either urban or rural New Zealand.

Once again New Zealand is lagging in the important debates being had around the world. What sort of a message are we sending to our citizens?

Instead we get this sort of commentary. Where it’s being argued in one of our major newspapers that the internet isn’t a right, it’s a privilege! Well that attitude is certainly going to close the digital divide isn’t it! What does  Steven Joyce have to say about it?

34 Responses to “Internet access a fundamental right?”

  1. StephenR says:

    If you live in a rural community, a jungle, a desert or Antarctica and there’s no internet access, you can’t exactly complain about your fundamental rights being violated.

    So you think Appleby is wrong when he says this?

  2. bikerkiwi says:

    “Almost four in five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right” Yeah Right!

    Im wondering who they asked given that Im pretty sure that the majority of the below put ultra fast band lower on their list of “must haves” Still I guess it will help them download you tube clips faster.

    At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

    Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.

    Almost two in three people lacking access to clean water survive on less than $2 a day, with one in three living on less than $1 a day.

    More than 660 million people without sanitation live on less than $2 a day, and more than 385 million on less than $1 a day.

    Access to piped water into the household averages about 85% for the wealthiest 20% of the population, compared with 25% for the poorest 20%.

    1.8 billion people who have access to a water source within 1 kilometre, but not in their house or yard, consume around 20 litres per day.

    In the United Kingdom the average person uses more than 50 litres of water a day flushing toilets (where average daily water usage is about 150 liters a day. The highest average water use in the world is in the US, at 600 liters day.)

    Some 1.8 million child deaths each year as a result of diarrhoea

    The loss of 443 million school days each year from water-related illness.

    Close to half of all people in developing countries suffering at any given time from a health problem caused by water and sanitation deficits.

    Millions of women spending several hours a day collecting water.

    Number of children in the world
    2.2 billion
    Number in poverty
    1 billion (every second child)
    Shelter, safe water and health
    For the 1.9 billion children from the developing world, there are:

    640 million without adequate shelter (1 in 3)
    400 million with no access to safe water (1 in 5)
    270 million with no access to health services (1 in 7)
    Children out of education worldwide
    121 million

    Survival for children

    10.6 million died in 2003 before they reached the age of 5 (same as children population in France, Germany, Greece and Italy)

    1.4 million die each year from lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation

  3. Clare Curran says:

    I think he’s trivialising the issues. I think it’s an extremely important discussion to have. It is about our future as a nation.

    I have written before about electricity and the impact that having a washing machine and a fridge made on women’s lives in many many countries around the world. Of course, having a fridge and a washing machine is not a human right, but having access to electricity, is in many countries an essential service. As is access to a landline, a 111 service and possibly, a mobile phone service that functions properly.

    I am not saying categorically that access to the internet is a human right. But I do believe it is an essential service and I’d like us to have a serious and rational dsicussion about it.

  4. Neil James says:

    While the internet may not be a fundamental human right I believe citizens of New Zealand should have an expectation of reasonable access. It is clear that school pupils without access the the internet at home can be seriously disadvantaged. The best access to services can often be via the internet – and Government departments and agencies are increasingly using the internet for information dissemination and interaction with the citizens.

    I agree with Clare that there should be an active discussion of this topic. What should the level of expectation should New Zealander’s have for access to the internet? We do accept in New Zealand that houses should be plumbed for water services, and the water should be potable. Is this called a fundamental right? If so then I see access to the internet becoming a similar ‘right’.

    Perhaps part of the problem with this debate is the language used. We should not be using the term ‘fundamental right’. Perhaps we should talk of reasonable expectations for citizens of a developed nation.

  5. bnonymous says:

    bikerkiwi – I think you have human rights confused. Provision of water is not a human right. Well not according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However freedom of expression and privacy regardless of the medium used are human rights. Internet access restrictions and filtering effectively negate this right.

  6. Nevyn says:

    Fundamental? Certainly not.

    Essential infrastructure, definitely.

    The problem comes about with population density. For all of our love for the country and pride in national parks and the like, we pay a price. Those in rural areas are never going to have the sort of access as those in urban areas.

    If you were able to lay a cable and given the choice of investing in a cable that could have you 50,000 potential customers or laying that same cable for the same cost to reach a potential 50 customers, chances are, you’re going to want to invest in the more densely populated areas.

    If there’s no financial incentive to lay cable to these areas, and we’ve put our trust in capitalism, what chance have those areas got? It’s a bit like our knowledge society. We talk about it, but what steps have really been made to keep our brightest in New Zealand?

    We talk about universal internet access, but again, what steps are being made? National are looking at throwing money around. However, have they looked at the restrictive nature of broadband plans in New Zealand currently? Pricing is hideous and keeps getting worse. How is fibre to the door going to fix that? All very well putting the infrastructure in, but if NZ’ers can’t afford the service, what’s the point?

    So I say, stop looking at the infrastructure – go back and have a look at the current internet landscape in NZ and make action on what’s happening currently before spending that money on infrastructure which could potentially prove to be next to useless.


  7. Ben says:

    It depends somewhat on how its skewed. Yes I would absolutely agree that access to the internet in an unfettered manner (with the obvious internal affairs elements) is a fundamental human right, as it is critical to our development to have access to all manner of information etc… in same sense as books.

    I think it’s incredibly unwise to attempt to read in some obligation upon the state to actively provide the internet, rather the state should not obstruct it. Imposing obligations in human rights as opposed to safety catchs tend to be impossible to enforce e.g. economic rights in south africa.

  8. Sweetd says:

    These are the only rights you have,

    The universal declaration of human rights. “On December 10, 1948 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the full text of which appears in the following pages. Following this historic act the Assembly called upon all Member countries to publicize the text of the Declaration and “to cause it to be disseminated, displayed, read and expounded principally in schools and other educational institutions, without distinction based on the political status of countries or territories.”

    Everything else assumes ownership on somebody’s skill, time and/or property. What else would you expect from a socialist.

  9. Ben says:

    I’m think what I’m getting at is Articles 18, 19, 26, 27 and 29 would all support the idea of access to the internet being a human right. However as above I think it could only be read as the Government cannot infringe unreasonably on access as opposed to the Government has an obligation to provide access.

  10. Spud says:

    It’s as necessary as cellphones. Also a must for addicts like Trevor. 😀

  11. Spud says:

    And me too I guess.

  12. Sweetd says:

    Spud, I think in jest you touch on a good point there. What is privilege for one generation, becomes a right for the next. Look at what the baby boomer generation had to scrimp and save for, becomes I need it, I want it, I will have in now for Gen X.

  13. Spud says:

    Worse for y and millenials! Kiddies must have cellphones – now it’s been reported that it is bad for developing brains. :-(

    Wow, we’re in complete agreement, S weetd, has hell frozen over? 😯

  14. Draco T Bastard says:

    Everything else assumes ownership on somebody’s skill, time and/or property.

    No it doesn’t. Last time we had government owned telecommunications the technicians were well paid. Not true today though. So, who’s the ones claiming ownership? I suspect you’ll find, if you not too scared to look and accept the evidence, that it’s the capitalists.

  15. sweetd says:

    Of course Draco, because the govt earns its own money, nothing to do with taxpayers at all.

  16. SHG says:

    So when Labour’s Judith Tizard arbitrarily changed the wording of S92a of the Copyright Act to allow disconnection of people from the Internet, she was infringing on a human right?

  17. Trevor Mallard says:

    SHG Parliament did – not Judith and Nats voted for it. Doesn’t make it right but please stick to facts.

  18. Falafulu Fisi says:

    Clare, the argument that internet isn’t a right, it’s a privilege is right on the dot there.

    Think about it as a property rights issue. This means that the provider of the internet services has no obligation to be forced (by law) to allow a person that it had banned for example from its services on the ground/s that this person had violated its rules. This banned person can’t run to court and complain that his access rights to the internet are being violated. The online services are properties that belong to the owner/s and not the citizens whom may have mistaken to believe that access to the internet is their rights by birth, but actually not. They (citizens) have a right to setup their own services (i.e., their own properties which they have rights to their use), but they can’t claim that getting access to the internet is being violated because no entrepreneur has setup such services in his village/town/country, etc…

  19. SHG says:

    Trevor – regardless of how the votes were cast, according to Colin Jackson’s well-publicised notes of the meeting between Tizard, Cunliffe, and NZ Internet-industry reps, Tizard said that

    “(removal of the disconnection provision) was completely inappropriate of the Select Committee, because Cabinet had already decided this was going ahead. We should not have been surprised, we were told, that this provision was reinserted by the government at the last minute before the bill was passed.”

    Cabinet had decided, reinserted by the government. That being the Labour Government. Of which Tizard was Associate Minister of Commerce and the responsible minister for copyright.

    So, forgive me if I take statements from the Labour Party about whether or not Internet access is a fundamental human right with a grain of salt.

  20. Dr.Strangelove says:

    This is somewhat of topic, but did the ramifications of using the name “Red Alert” ever make itself known to you? As the creators of this site surely know, Red Alert is a fictional book about the cold war, and red alert obviously refers to the communist threat. So what sort of right thinking person, who hopes the party they are in favor of would be elected, would make it seem as if said party is communist. It seems like somewhat of a foolish title, or is Labour a Communist party?

  21. Despair says:

    Well guaranteed ‘internet’ is delivered in New Zealand under the 2001 amendments to the TSO… but I think you actually mean ‘broadband’ internet. But actually when you think about it Broadband is available ubiquitously throughout New Zealand – just not necessarily ADSL or mobile broadband – satellite is available everywhere today.

  22. Clare Curran says:

    @ Despair Try telling that to the people of Burkes Pass on the main state highway from Christchurch to Queenstown (& Mt Cook) who do not have cellphone coverage or broadband. Fairlie & Tekapo have both, & they are between the two towns.

    The residential population is small but they have thousands passing daily. (International and local).

    Emergency Services, in particular ambulances, loose communication in this zone.

    They have several businesses in the area. Most are obliged to use the Satellite option but find it too expensive. There is potential for more business, if there was broadband.

    A fibre optic cable (Chorus owned) runs past the community, but Telecom says it would too expensive to install and run a roadside cabinet.

    That’s just one of many many communities that are disadvantaged in NZ. These are rural communities.

    But with broadband, no matter whether in the urban or rural environment, how are many people going to be able to afford it? The govt money will not connect to people’s homes. There’s no govt investment into services that will make it viable for the population to connect. This is not about downloading movies faster. It’s about education, health, energy and a range of other services that can be dlivered via ultrafast broadband.

  23. lesterpk says:

    You dont have to be remote to have crap access in NZ. Friends live on Aucklands North Shore, they can only get dial up and even then its very slow. They are at the end of a dead end road, in a valley. No wireless signal and telecom wont upgrade the local cabinet either.

  24. Draco T Bastard says:

    because the govt earns its own money, nothing to do with taxpayers at all.

    Yes, people pay for the services they receive. The political right don’t want to though which is why they’re always complaining about paying taxes.

    It’s about education, health, energy and a range of other services that can be dlivered via ultrafast broadband.

    And don’t forget democracy. The internet can allow a many to many discussion that no other form of communication can achieve and communication is the heart of democracy.

  25. Despair says:

    So you are talking about broadband being a fundamental right – rather than access to the internet. Like I said, it is available – you just have to pay for it.

    Frankly that’s how it should be, government shouldnt be forcing everyone on to ADSL technology – so long as ‘broadband’ is available everywhere, then the technology should be irrelevant.

    I cant think of many other countries that would expect private companies to subsidise the lifestyle of people living in remote locations. If people are going to choose to live in the middle of no where – then there will be some additional costs associated – simple as that.

  26. Richard McGrath says:

    Falafulu Fisi is correct. Fundamental rights are timeless. Such as: the right to freedom of speech and expression; the right to possess and carry adequate means of self-defence; the right to be secure in one’s possessions from search and seizure. The sort of things that governments everywhere try to limit.

    There is no fundamental right to broadband access, just as there is no fundamental right to spaceship travel to the moon. These are things to be paid for if you have the money. Otherwise something has to be forced to pay for them and to provide or create them.

    The essential aspect of rights and freedoms is that no-one has to be forced to pay for or supply them. They impose no burden on anyone else.

  27. David Cunliffe says:

    Glad to see this debate hotting up. Clare has done us all a favour with this thought-provoking post.

  28. Falafulu Fisi says:

    Clare, Not PC blog has responded to your post.

    Internet access a “fundamental right”?

    I suggest that you should encourage your Labour colleagues to read it so that you understand what fundamental right is, which it should be primary (first principle) not secondary (ie, derived from primary).

  29. Clare Curran says:

    @ Falafulu Perhaps you haven’t read all the comments and my previous posts. Or perhpas you have but don’t udnerstand them

  30. James says:

    There is no such thing as a “right” to anything another human being has to act to provide you with.Education,housing,healthcare,internet etc are services to pay for if you want them….they are not rights.

    “A right is a moral sanction,to freedom of action,in a social context”

    Meaning that they are actions you may take without needing the permission of anyone else to do so.They only true,non contradictory rights are those expoused so brilliantly back in 1776 at the foundation of the first morally based country in human history,the USA. (Sadly now long departed from these ideals and just another failed socialists swamp)the rights to life,liberty,property and the pursuit of happiness.Note that to enact these rights no-one elses exact same rights need be violated…all thats required is for people to do nothing…just leave the person alone.Simple…as nature makes it thanks to the laws of identity and non-contradiction.

    The discredited UN’s declaration of Human rights falls into massive contradioction from about article 21 onwards and is no credicle source for rights study.

    Best explanation of real,individual rights here

  31. Draco T Bastard says:

    Education,housing,healthcare,internet etc are services to pay for if you want them….they are not rights.

    They’re a necessary part of the community though.

    BTW, linking to Rand just shows that you really don’t know WTF you’re talking about. Rand was a delusional nutcase and her theories should be treated with the contempt that they deserve.

  32. James says:

    Offensive – don’t use the language from blowhole and penguin sites here please. deleted Trevor

  33. James says:

    “Education,housing,healthcare,internet etc are services to pay for if you want them….they are not rights.

    They’re a necessary part of the community though.”

    Doesn’t make them rights.And a community is only an abstraction of human individuals…who are the only entities that have rights as its only they who exist.When the human individuals seperate the group ceases to exist…but the individual still does.

    The only value of any group is its benefit to the individuals comprising it…if that group becomes detrimental to the individuals composing it it will collapse.See The USSR,Red China,Socialist NZ for the last 80 odd years.Groups that threaten and deminish the human individual are doomed from inception….

  34. Food is essential but there are many different ideas on how to produce and provide it and individuals have different ideas about what proportion of their income they should spend on it and which providers they want to patronize. Individuals have a right to make those choices. This kind of right, these freedoms, are destroyed by those who institute the provision of this that and the other by government at taxpayers expense.

    I think people often confuse rights with essentials. To say that a product or a service is essential is not the same as saying it is a right to be provided by the state. When you add up income tax, GST, petrol tax and other levies and local government rates we are forced to pay close to half of our income on government. Many of us are struggling to pay for all this. This is a causative factor in the recession and is slowing our ability to recover. This is unsustainable and we are steadily loosing the right to set our own priorities as individuals. Those who want faster broadband should pay for it themselves when and if private providers offer it period.