Do You Have the Right to Surf? Internet Laws in Modern Society

Connection and communication are critical to our society. Most of us begin our day by checking email, updating Facebook, or finding out the latest news that’s important to us. In the twenty-three years since the World Wide Web was launched, it has become a staple of modern life. While accessing this service, we seldom take the time to consider the rights that we are allowed or what access might be like in other parts of the world. A poll in 2010 by the BBC World Service found that 4 out of 5 Internet and non-Internet users around the world believed that “access to the Internet was a fundamental right”. These results match findings by non-profit research group the Internet Society, which found in a poll that 83% of users from 20 countries agreed, “access to the Internet should be considered a basic human right”. Despite so many people around the world feeling this way, most are unaware of how limited their access to the Internet truly is.

According to a 2011 report by UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue, “the Internet has become a key means by which individuals can exercise their right to freedom and expression”. With the Internet being so instrumental to the exchange of ideas and people’s freedoms you would think that democratic governments would push to allow their citizens access, unfortunately this is not the case everywhere.

We’ll consider two case examples, the former soviet satellite nation of Finland and the golden example of democracy, the United States of America. Finland’s government mandated that by July 2010 every citizen would have access to a minimum 1Mb/s broadband connection, believing access to Internet in the 21st century to be a basic human right. In the United States on the other hand, the right to Internet access is guaranteed by the government, but not mandated. In fact, aside from offering Internet access through public facilities such as libraries the United States government does very little to connect it’s people to the Internet, leaving that responsibility in the hands of Internet Service Providers such as Verizon and AT&T. The problem with this is that Americans pay some of the most expensive fees for broadband in the world and receive very little in comparison to other nations. According to the report “The Cost of Connectivity” published by the New America Foundation customers in New York City, United States paid an estimated $154.98 USD per year in order to have a download speed of 10 Mb/s and an upload speed of 2 Mb/s while customers in Riga, Latvia paid an estimated $25.43 USD per year in order to have a download speed of 20 Mb/s and an upload speed of 5 Mb/s. When we take these numbers into consideration we see that Americans in some situations are paying six times more than people in other countries for an Internet connection that is half the speed. With Internet access costs so high, many people are unable to use this essential tool of democracy.

It’s up to individual governments to not only guarantee the rights of Internet use for their people but to mandate them so that each individual can use this service that has become so key to modern life.

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