An argument for internet access as a right

27-06-2022 |   |  By Robin Mitchell

The internet is an essential tool for modern life, but while roads provide rights to access for all citizens, the internet is still a privatised industry whose access is entirely discretionary to ISPs. How has the internet become an essential part of modern life, should internet access be a right, and how could basic internet access be provided?


How has the internet become an essential part of modern life?


One fact about modern life that cannot go understated is that the internet plays a central role in almost everything we do. Whether it is checking emails for correspondence, paying for bills, ordering groceries, researching topics, or just catching up with friends, the internet has become so ingrained in everyday life that it is now virtually impossible to avoid using it.

However, some areas of life still have yet to take advantage of the internet. For example, vehicles are frequently referred to as “computers on wheels” due to the massive amount of complex electronics they integrate, and yet, they still often lack internet connectivity. It is expected that vehicles of the future will utilise cellular connections to inform other vehicles where they are, their direction, and their speed. This will enable vehicles to avoid crashes by predicting where all other vehicles will be; this could even be extended to pedestrians with smartphones and also reporting positions to vehicles.

The medical field is also looking into using remote wearable health monitors for patients who can recover from home. Such a wearable device would utilise a wireless internet connection to send crucial data back to health professionals to check on their recovery, and the ability to send patients home early not only frees up hospital space but also reduces the chance of secondary infections.

If one requires proof of the importance of the internet, try to live without it for a month. While this may be possible for a small percentage of individuals who live in the countryside (typically from older generations), the vast majority will require internet access, whether it is for accessing bank accounts, paying bills, working in an office, or for entertainment.


Should internet access be a right?


The topic “should internet access be a right” can quickly become heated as such conversations boil down to communism vs capitalism. Those who support internet access as a right will often be accused of being communist, while those against will be accused of being a capitalist. In reality, both of these conclusions are almost always misguided as the term “right” is misunderstood.

When something is said to be a right, it typically refers to a freedom that cannot be taken away for arbitrary reasons, especially by governments. For example, rights to free speech dictate that citizens have the right (freedom) to say what they want without fear of persecution. It also ensures that citizens can speak without being forcibly silenced (through physical means) by other citizens.

However, just because something is a right doesn’t mean it has to be free. For example, water and food are basic human rights, but that doesn’t mean water companies and supermarkets must provide their services for free. However, such service providers (especially water providers) must ensure that their services are available to all (on the condition that payments are made).

Thus, understanding that having the right to something doesn’t mean free means that having internet access as a right would not need to be provided for free but must be available to anyone who requests a connection. Like water companies, internet providers would need to ensure an adequate speed for practical use and never deny internet access, with the only exception being lack of payment.


So, what would an argument for “right to internet access” be?


Considering that almost all aspects of modern life are driven by internet-enabled technologies, being denied access to internet access is akin to being denied access to roads. Public roads provide a right of access to all citizens, and this right allows for people to move around as they please, whether it’s for seeing friends, purchasing groceries, or commuting to work. If this right to road access was revoked, it would cause utter mayhem as people would be literally trapped in their homes (this is why COVID lockdowns require emergency powers as they were borderline illegal).

As such, an individual whose internet access is revoked would be like having road access restricted. Most forms of employment now utilise the internet, most bills are paid online, and most registration systems are digital. Of course, digital technologies would still be available (through a local network), but this would be equivalent to living in the early 1990s. Even trying to find new employment opportunities requires the use of internet searches and companies that solely operate online, and the lack of phone books would make finding any company for specialist work would be impractical.


How could basic internet access right be implemented?


While having internet access should be a right, that doesn’t mean it should be free, and it doesn’t also mean that the access should be unrestricted. For example, those who have committed serious offences should have internet access that is carefully monitored by local authorities and only allowed for the most essential services.

One potential solution is for a tax credit to ISPs that provide customers with a free entry-level package. Such a package allows anyone to access the internet for free, but the bandwidth allocated to this would be significantly reduced (i.e., enough for email and messaging). As most customers would want higher bandwidth for video streaming, it would most likely be used by a small minority of the population. Even so, it still provides people with free limited access to ensure that no matter what happens to them financially, they can always have some level of internet access.

Another potential solution is to construct government-funded cellular towers to provide 100% coverage across an entire country. Again, the bandwidth of this network would be limited, but even so, it would allow all devices to have an internet connection with limited capabilities. Furthermore, this use of 100% cellular coverage could also eliminate the dangers of having no reception (i.e., no access to emergency services).

Finally, rights to internet access in its most basic form can also be realised by introducing legislation to prevent ISPs from denying access to customers. Such a law would prevent ISPs from disconnecting a property’s internet connection except for no payment. Realistically, no ISP would ever disconnect their customers without notice, but the very act of introducing such a law would make a statement to all that internet access is indeed a right and must not be impeded.


Profile.jpg

By Robin Mitchell

Robin Mitchell is an electronic engineer who has been involved in electronics since the age of 13. After completing a BEng at the University of Warwick, Robin moved into the field of online content creation developing articles, news pieces, and projects aimed at professionals and makers alike. Currently, Robin runs a small electronics business, MitchElectronics, which produces educational kits and resources.

Related articles