Is There a Right to Broadband Connectivity?

According to news reports, Finland has become the first country in the world to determine that broadband access is a legal right. Remember our discussion with Jamie Workman about whether there is a right to water access. Is there a right to broadband connectivity? Sounds like a luxury if you live in Burundi, but if you are in a wealthy Scandinavian nation, perhaps so. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), as of December 2008, Finland is eighth on the broadband penetration ranking (with 30.7%) behind Denmark (37.2%), the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, Korea and Sweden. Following behind Finland are Luxembourg, Canada, the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, and the US (no. 15, with 25.8%).


7 Responses to “Is There a Right to Broadband Connectivity?”

  1. 1 Chow Chui Yin, Kuma 16/10/2009 at 2:50 am

    What is the right to broadband? Everyone should be given broadband? Or everyone if they can pay, should have no problem/barrier to receive it?

    I looked through all the comments on the link provided, it seems people are provoked very easily by the concept of offering free goods out to the public as they think, it’ll hurt the free market. Supporter of right to broadband think the global trend is a knowledge economy and internet access is basically a pillar of survival for the people and therefore broadband should be a right.

    I myself support right to broadband, but I argue the idea should be everyone who can pay for internet should have no problem getting such, no matter where they are(in poorer district where big companies might not want to cover for just a handful of customers), no matter what their political opinions are etc. Everyone should be charged reasonably regardless of their social status etc. For freedom of speech and access of information and knowledge and so a chance to prosper economically, even the poorest should have right to broadband. How they get it and what do they get can be negotiated. They can get a very basic internet service for free, so the market remains competitive as services can still be developed and improved for those who are willing to pay for more advanced internet services.

    I don’t think people should be so angry when the government tries to make broadband a right and free. The market doesn’t have to die because you provide the most basic service to everyone. And it’s for the sake of equal chance to prosper and freedom of speech etc. It should be supported. And if you look around, in public libraries and in public funded schools and universities, free broadband is there for the public to access, doesn’t that imply the government has a role in providing internet to its people? And those who are provoked and angry just missed the point that free internet is already being provided by the gov.t, perhaps?

  2. 2 Chan Pui Ki, Kiki 16/10/2009 at 10:21 pm

    There should be a right to broadband connectivity as it benefits not only individual users like us but also the economy and society.

    Economically, in a globalized world, broadband is crucial to telecommunications, facilitating fast and smooth information flow and business transaction. According to the research conducted by Telecommunications Management Group, in Africa where broadband connectivity is low, every one per cent increase in penetration equates to US$493 rise in GPD per capita. Given the backward infrastructural development in many African places, wireless broadband services can play a key role in linking people, just like how mobile rather than fixed line telephone links people there.

    Socially, broadband connects people, as evidenced by the popularity of social networking sites. In China, people utilize these sites to report bureaucratic malpractices right after they detect them and mobilize their counterparts to react by protesting. While there is “cyber police” employed by the Chinese government, netizens use the “human flesh search engine” to expose the personal details of villains. Some argue that the evolution of internet is conducive to the emergence of civil society which can potentially impact the political environment in China.

    Such function in social aspect indeed educate people informally. However, the right to information is as important as the right to broadband connectivity. A few days ago, I learnt from a television programme that citizens in North Korea can only visit the intranet of the government in public libraries (and I think many of them do not manage to have internet access at home). In this case, even accessing the internet in super speed means not much thing.

  3. 3 Ma On Ki 18/10/2009 at 12:02 pm

    When I first come across the question, I was like, thinking about, why does broadband access so unique that we have to create a separate legal ground for it?

    In my opinion, broadband access is a only a mode to express or receive information which is already protected in most of the places in the notion of freedom of expression.

    If we need to make it a separate right, so do we have to say like, include book reading/ TV watching as a legal right too?

    At the end they are all the same things with different modes. Therefore, I do not think that we should have any separate protection of any of them.

  4. 4 Paula 20/10/2009 at 10:23 am

    My first reaction to this blog post is same as Ma On Ki. Why should broadband access become a legal right that to be enjoyed by everyone? There must be strong justification on that.

    yet I do not agree with the latter part of On Ki’s comment. Broadband access is one mode to get access to information and a channel to voice your opinion. It is true there are other modes of getting information and let your opinions be heard, but Internet is the most convenient and efficient way of communication in the era of the 21th century. in fact this right can be related to freedom of speech. What is the point if we recognise the importance of freedom of speech but we fail to provide any means for the people to express their opinion? I would say creating a separate right of broadband access is a step towards the realization of freedom of speech.

    • 5 Xiong Haotao, Testa 21/10/2009 at 1:51 pm

      I agree with Chow Chui Yin, Kuma on the point that even though they regard broadband access as a legal right, the market should still play a crucial role in the distribution of broadband resource. Actually, there are a lot of problems facing this issue. Whether broadband access is luxury or not, to a great extent, depends on the social and economical development degree of certain nations and areas. In this sense, as Finland is highly matured socially and economically, broadband access can be seen as normal good. In nowadays, internet has become one of the most important places where people can express themselves and exchange ideas. To this dimension, protection of people’s access to internet can be seen as protection of freedom of expression. But why it must be broadband? Is that necessary? As long as there are no restrictions on access towards broadband internet, legalization of this right make almost no difference. Market should still play the initial role. You can pay for it, you use it. But that doesn’t mean those extremely poor could never enjoy the broadband internet service. Government could provide certain amount of free public broadband internet centre or thins like that so that even those who couldn’t pay for it could use the service. Again, the key here is place no restriction on broadband access as long as people could afford it.

  5. 6 Wong Ching Hung 21/10/2009 at 1:33 pm

    I think a legal right to broadband connectivity carries a lot of merits. It ensures freedom of expression and access to information,and also, encourages human interaction and facilitates the economic growth under the globalized world.

    Undoubtedly, such right would bring unlimited advantages to the citizens and it is therefore justified to enforce such a right. However, I would argue that such a right is appreciated for only the developed countries like Finland which already have sufficient resources and ability to deal with the problems concerning the wellbeings of their citizens. So that after guaranteering citizens’ basic needs, they can have a step further to improve the country by getting broadband connectivity to everyone.

    To me, the access to basic necessities like food, water and electricity is definitely more important than that of broadband connection. They are the essences to support human survival and affect the livelihood worldwide. Compared to that, the connection is more like a ”secondary need” which is not very urgent. Therefore, though Finland’s action is much appreciated, there should not be a push to urge other countries to follow suit. It is especially true for some developing countries which are still struggling to improve their citizens’ livelihood. They are justified and encouraged rather to focus on promising access to basic necessities like food and water in the initial step.

  6. 7 Kei Kit Lung 27/10/2009 at 9:56 pm

    While Finland was the first country in the world to confirm broadband right, it did not guarantee the speed. It will be a very crucial stipulation, given the complexity of content on the web. In addition, internet access is impossible without a computer – but why offering citizens such right if they cannot access to computer in the first place? Should we make computer access a right too? This goes back to the basic question on whether internet access shall be a right.

    Despite the diverse comments here, I think no one will disagree that freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, and internet access can facilitate information dissemination and exchange and help to advance public discourse. Internet is especially vital to this century, for it has become an inseparable part of our life. It is conducive to education, democratic participation and social interaction.

    Granted, the fact that this right has not traditionally been recognized does not mean internet access cannot be a human right. But when we talk about basic rights, they are those who are all coached into broad team, e.g. right of private ownership of property, freedom of speech, of publication, freedom of association, of demonstration, of communication etc. Indeed, they are written so broadly because it can offer flexibility to interpret them. These rights are not referring to any specific mode or method in achieving a value. I do appreciate and understand the rationale and good intent behind the creation of internet right, but the isolated creation of such right seems a bit extreme to me. And right has to be practically enforced. Can a citizen sue the government for violating this right, when there is a technological breakdown in internet?

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