The Internet As Your Birthright

Mitch JoelPosted by

As much as democracy and the right to a fair trial, so too is connectivity and access to the Internet.

The news item titled, Finland makes 1Mb broadband access a legal right, from Cnet was published on October 14th, 2009. Check this out: "France, one of a few countries that has made Internet access a human right, did so earlier this year. France’s Constitutional Council ruled that Internet access is a basic human right. That said, it stopped short of making ‘broadband access’ a legal right. Finland says that it’s the first country to make broadband access a legal right."

Then, last week, it was reported that the law had passed. "’Internet services are no longer just for entertainment,’ the country’s communication minister told the BBC. Indeed, in a world where more and more people get their information online, Web access has become a precondition for an informed citizenry. Guaranteeing this access is not only necessary for societies seeking to advance technologically, but for any country with democratic aspirations. Prior to enshrining Internet access as a legal right, Finland had already done an impressive job getting its citizens online. Some 96 percent of the population already has Web access, leaving a mere 4,000 households – most of them located in the country’s remote, Arctic outskirts – in need of a hookup. Given these statistics, passing such legislation looks more like a formality than a daring, expensive enterprise. The significance of Finland’s undertaking, however, is not reflected in its cost or complexity, but in the message it sends: In the 21st century, the citizens of a democratic nation must be equipped with the tools to educate themselves about what is happening not only in their local communities, but around the world."

We spend a lot of time talking about shiny objects and the hot online social network of the day, but there is something bigger happening here and now.

Imagine how much our world has changed in the past few years. Imagine all of those naysayers who still think that the Internet is a fad simply because people have moved on from Friendster to MySpace to Facebook. This Blog (and many others like it) acts as an anti-mass media construct. Blogs – and even an individual’s Twitter feed or YouTube page – are very much an important part of the media (some – myself included – may even argue that they are more important and more personal than other media channels). When Blogs first entered popular culture, there was debate as to whether or not the content should be considered credible like classic Journalism. Within a few years, we’ve arrived at the point where it’s not only accepted, but more and more newspapers are rethinking/retooling their online presence (and let’s not even talk about iPhone and iPad apps) to ensure that their messages (news and advertising) is reaching their markets. On top of this, many of the traditional news services scour the online channels for news (instead of hunting it down the way they used to).

What other media channels are your birthright?

TV, radio, free press, print, etc… think about their significance in your life versus what it would mean to not have any Internet or mobile connectivity. The communication minister of Finland is spot on. This isn’t just about entertainment. This is about how we – as a society – are now intrinsically connected and what this means as that connectivity continues to not only get faster, but as it brings us all closer together.

The Internet as culture.

We used to think that "Internet Culture" was about lolcats and double rainbows, but it is a much bigger shift and something that – upon reflection – will probably have bigger ramifications on our culture than the advent of the printing press. So, while others are critical of the Internet Culture (look no further than the business books, The Shallows by Nicholas Carr and You Are Not A Gadget by Jaron Lanier), it’s important to also remember that we’re not at the end of the shift in culture just yet. We’re still in the middle of this change, and the net result (pardon the pun) has yet to be finalized and defined. In the interim, moves like making Internet access a human right from Finland and France prove to be very interesting steps towards a very different future from the one any of us could have ever imagined.

The Internet as a birthright is another massive step toward understanding our future.

35 comments

  1. The access to information is a birth right as much as voicing our opinions are. From how I understand it, given my current state of mind, I think it won’t really matter as much because of the dearth of misinformation and fallacies on the web today. But yeah, it does give people a choice to at least find the voice to listen to.
    Sorry bout the nonsensical comment, I am addled by some issues at present….

  2. I agree and disagree with you Mitch. I agree under the premise that since the internet exists and benefits so many, that being denied it is an act of oppression and discrimination, as well as removing a major avenue of free speech.
    I disagree under the premise that it is a want vs a need. Meaning if the internet disappeared tomorrow, while it would suck big time, its not the same as sun, water, food etc to our survival.
    And then I will agree once more (I am allowed this because I am the Typist! lol) because since I do believe in other life forms most likely much more advanced that us, it is a need if we are too survive long term in this universe. I always wonder what if another world 4.5 billion years old with similar advanced lifeforms who say for ease of argument were like us in the development curve but started their development instead of 6k years ago….had their industrial revolution just 1000 years earlier how advanced they will be. In 1000 years we will have hyperspace, interstellar travel, maybe even teleportation. I can only fathom what the beings that have been coming here observing have at their disposal.

  3. It’s interesting Howie mentions water. Did you know the Canadian government as well as many others oppose the UN recognizing access to *water* as a basic human right?
    http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/840582–un-to-vote-on-right-to-water
    I think you’re right about us still being in the middle of a big shift Mitch, but we should also recognize that it’s a shift we in the ‘developed’ world have the luxury of being in while many others continue to struggle for survival. I just hope it’s not a tectonic shift that grows the divide between the haves and the have-nots of the world.

  4. It’s also important from the “freedom and access to information” stand-point. If we suddenly have a world where newspapers aren’t as readily available, and the majority of people are getting their news and information from the Internet, we are creating two very separate classes in our societies of the “haves” and the “have-nots”. By making the Internet a human right, we are sending a consistent message (as we have done in our past) that everyone has the right to be informed about what is happening within their community.

  5. Agreed – 100%. This is why a lot of motion to “wire” the third world is actually about using mobile and even basic text messaging. A lot of the conversation about this post is around the fact that newspapers can’t provide this level of information and coverage any more, but let’s also not forget that Government is making a big push to the online channels too. Access to the Internet isn’t just about knowing what’s happening in your community. It is quickly also becoming about staying connected to Government, social needs, etc…
    The Digital Divide is a legitimate concern, but this could also be that moment in time where we use all of this technology to bring those developing worlds much closer (and faster) to us.

  6. We were all hoping that you would pick up the tab. Seriously, a lot of the countries that are changing these laws have the money/infrastructure to make this happen. The big question is who pays for this when they don’t have the resources? Is this like healthcare or is this more like the funding of public libraries, etc…?

  7. lol, I’m working on that 🙂
    You ask some great questions, and to be honest, I’m amazed that in the US, we’re still fighting to make this happen. In developing countries, because the government hasn’t really regulated it as much, I think you’ll see some inspired entrepreneurs start the movement…maybe.

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