I have, for some time, touted the Internet as a basic human right. There are still many who view it as a luxury for those who can afford it, but it is my opinion that in the modern era, humans who live without access are prejudiced to the point where their rights are compromised. It should therefore be one of the top priorities of governments everywhere to ensure that all citizens have the means to access the Internet at a realistic price.
The Internet should also be seen as a human right because it supports other inalienable rights, such as freedom of expression, where those without access are at a serious disadvantage to those who have.
Increasingly, the communities in which we interact are moving online. Those who cannot interact in online communities or on online platforms are negatively impacted by their lack of access. In addition to freedom of speech, other UN-recognised human rights that are impacted by lack of access are the right to development and the right to freedom of assembly. While these rights were initially recognised in the physical space, the online space is becoming increasingly important in this regard as more people gain access to the online space and the possibilities of this space continue to grow.
The right to development encompasses several aspects. There are so many examples of businesses that have been started with nothing more than a smartphone. Having access to the internet as a whole on a reasonably affordable device is one of the cheapest ways of unlocking economic potential.
However, probably the most important aspect of Internet access in terms of human rights is the access to education. Although there are many factors that play a role in human inequality, the lack of education has to be one of the biggest contributors to the inability of people to lift themselves out of poverty.
In South Africa and many other parts of the world, one of the biggest contributors to the disparate education levels that persist is the difference in the quality of education, particularly when urban and rural areas are compared. If you have the Internet at your disposal, suddenly everyone has access to the great interactive library, giving those who are determined to achieve a far great chance of succeeding.
This access not only opens up educational opportunities for children of school-going age, it also provides an opportunity for those who had to drop out of school due to social or economic circumstances to complete their schooling. With internet access, no one is too old to address shortfalls in their qualifications or knowledge and change their destiny.
From there, the sky is the limit. Once schooling is complete, the wealth of online courses one can complete is vast. Even learners who may not have the resources to complete a formal course, could access the information online to potentially pursue the career of their choosing.
The Internet also provides an informal route to improve one’s livelihood. The Internet provides a wealth of information that users can combine to constitute their own education, particular to their needs. Through formal education, I feel that creativity is often stifled, however educating yourself according to your own personality, you might well be able to be successful in, and make a unique contribution to, business.
The value of access to the Internet to change people’s lives should therefore not be underestimated. Now, more than ever, governments and businesses need to focus their energies on ensuring that connectivity is not merely reserved for those who can afford it.