Kerala – the most literate state in India, has just declared Internet access as a basic right for every citizen just like food, education and water.
The state budget has unveiled a project, which aims to provide internet connections free of cost to 20 lakh poor families and at subsidised rates to others.
While this is a step in the right direction, the United Nations recommends that every country should make access to internet a Fundamental human right as well. Basic human rights are separate from Fundamental rights, which are granted by the Indian constitution.
The right to Internet access, also known as the right to broadband, is the view that all people must be able to access the Internet in order to exercise and enjoy their rights to Freedom of expression and opinion and other fundamental human rights, that states have a responsibility to ensure that Internet access is broadly available, and that states may not unreasonably restrict an individual’s access to the Internet.
In this increasingly digital age, where countries are on a mission to move towards a cashless economy and promote e-governance and digitisation, access to Internet is absolutely essential.
The government of Kerala has understood the fact that without basic access to the Internet, all digitisation initiatives will prove fruitless.
On the eve of the announcement, Finance Minister Thomas Issac said, “Internet will now become a right for the people and within 18 months the internet gateway would be set up through the K phone network at a cost of one billion Rupees.”
Several countries have already adopted laws that require the state to work to ensure that Internet access is broadly available and/or preventing the state from unreasonably restricting an individual’s access to information and the Internet:
Costa Rica: A 30 July 2010 ruling by the Supreme Court of Costa Rica stated: “Without fear of equivocation, it can be said that these technologies [information technology and communication] have impacted the way humans communicate, facilitating the connection between people and institutions worldwide and eliminating barriers of space and time. At this time, access to these technologies becomes a basic tool to facilitate the exercise of fundamental rights and democratic participation (e-democracy) and citizen control, education, freedom of thought and expression, access to information and public services online, the right to communicate with government electronically and administrative transparency, among others. This includes the fundamental right of access to these technologies, in particular, the right of access to the Internet or World Wide Web.”
Estonia: In 2000, the parliament launched a massive program to expand access to the countryside. The Internet, the government argues, is essential for life in the 21st century.
Finland: By July 2010, every person in Finland was to have access to a one-megabit per second broadband connection, according to the Ministry of Transport and Communications. And by 2015, access to a 100 Mbit/s connection.
France: In June 2009, the Constitutional Council, France’s highest court, declared access to the Internet to be a basic human right in a strongly-worded decision that struck down portions of the HADOPI law, a law that would have tracked abusers and without judicial review automatically cut off network access to those who continued to download illicit material after two warnings.
Greece: Article 5A of the Constitution of Greece states that all persons has a right to participate in the Information Society and that the state has an obligation to facilitate the production, exchange, diffusion, and access to electronically transmitted information.
Spain: Starting in 2011, Telefónica, the former state monopoly that holds the country’s “universal service” contract, has to guarantee to offer “reasonably” priced broadband of at least one megabit per second throughout Spain.