According to a poll conducted on behalf of BBC World Service nearly 80% of people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right.
When I think of my fundamental rights, I think of things like the right to equal protection under the law, freedom of speech, thought and movement etc, so at first glance internet access seems almost trivial by comparison.
However, when you consider how important the internet has become and the vital role it plays in our society it makes more sense. People in the UK now spend nearly half their waking hours using mobile phones, the internet and other communications devices, and it’s no surprise.
Internet access is important as a method of communication and as a way of getting access to services and information: can you imagine life without an email address? What about trying to find a job or somewhere to live without web access? Think about how annoying it would be to miss out on all the cheap deals that are ‘only available online’ for things like gas and electricity or insurance. If you don’t have access to the internet, you’re at a disadvantage in many ways.
Other countries around the world (including Finland and Estonia) have already ruled that internet access is a human right. Our own government has pledged that broadband will be universal in the UK by 2012 as part of the Digital Economy Bill. This isn’t about forcing people to go online – it’s about making sure that internet access is available if and when people want it. For example, by making sure that all areas of the country are connected (particularly rural areas that might be missing out at the moment) and improving our infrastructure to make sure it can cope with growing demand.