Momentum seems to be building for the idea that internet access is a universal right – and more than that, that high quality internet access is a universal right. As seems often to be the case in the digital world, the lead is coming from Scandinavia – Finland have made broadband a ‘legal’ right, according to a report in the BBC. From the 1st of July 2010, every Finn has the right to access to a 1Mbps (megabit per second) broadband connection. As reported by the BBC, Finland’s communication minister Suvi Linden sad that “We considered the role of the internet in Finns everyday life. Internet services are no longer just for entertainment.”
That much is becoming clearer and clearer. We need internet access for proper access to government services, we need internet access to get the best prices for goods and services – indeed, there are some goods and services that are almost impossible to get without access to the net. We need internet access for access to information and news – and we need information and news if we are to fully participate in our society. What the Finnish government have realised is that it’s not just ‘access’ that matters, but the quality of that access, if some of the ‘digital divide’ issues are to be dealt with – and that, surely, is what really matters.
From a human rights perspective, what is needed is an infrastructure that allows all people to fully participate in society. Making access to broadband a legal right doesn’t just mean giving people the right to download music or watch YouTube videos fast, it means that they have an opportunity to take advantage of the huge benefits that the internet can bring – benefits that those on the ‘advantaged’ side of the digital divide are already enjoying. Try searching for legal advice as to your rights as an employee when your job is under threat – as so many are in the current economic climate – and you soon discover why broadband is important. If you have to sit there waiting and waiting when you don’t even know what you’re waiting for, it’s all too easy to give up – and hence not to discover what your rights might be.
The Finns have taken the lead – but others will follow, and it is to be hoped that they will follow not just with bland statements or aspirations, but legal rights.