A report from the Human Rights Council of the United Nations General Assembly declares access to the Internet a basic human right which enables individuals to "exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression."
The report was released after the seventeenth session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, and is entitled "Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue." The report makes many bold statements regarding the right to Internet access and will spur global efforts to increase broadband availability in nations.
The BBC surveyed 26 countries and found that 79% of people believe access to the Internet is a fundamental right.
Is Broadband Affordable Enough for Universal Broadband Access?
In addition to basic Internet access, the report authors also emphasize that disconnecting individuals from the Internet is a violation of human rights and goes against international law. This statement is particularly relevant in Egypt and Syria, where governments attempted to control access to the Internet, and the opposition used the Internet to mount protests and organize events.
The United Nations emphasizes the importance of broadband and Internet access throughout the report:The Special Rapporteur believes that the Internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies.As such, facilitating access to the Internet for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible, should be a priority for all States.. . . by acting as a catalyst for individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Internet also facilitates the realization of a range of other human rights.
A Message to Countries Restricting Access
The report is a message to countries restricting access to citizens as an attempt to control opposition, as well as a signal to others that ensuring universal access to broadband should be a global priority. The report was published at a time when the FCC is reporting 26 million Americans do not have access to broadband.
The general mission of the United Nations Broadband Commission for Digital Development is to ensure high-speed affordable broadband connectivity to the Internet is provided to every citizen. The Commission promotes the adoption of broadband-friendly practices and policies for all, so everyone can take advantage of the social and societal benefits offered by broadband.
The report notes the importance of national broadband plans to lay out a cohesive strategy for deploying and utilizing broadband to carry out strategic national priorities. 119 Governments have adopted broadband plans to guide the journey into the digital era. Based on a global perspective, the importance of a national broadband strategy is summed up in the report:
The Critical Role Governments Play
Governments play a critical role in convening the private sector, public institutions, civil society and individual citizens to outline a vision for a connected nation. Policy leadership is necessary to:Highlight the role of broadband in national development.Establish a forum for dialogue and encouraging work across Ministries and sectors.Set an agenda that outlines policy goals and targets.Provide an enabling environment for private investment to flourish.