Access to the Internet, and at decent speeds, is starting to be seen as a fundamental right, like access to water. It’s hardly surprising, since the Internet gives us access to information, opinion and human contact.
Internet for all
Finland will use the law to make sure its citizens have good access to broadband1:
Legislation and licence policy will be the tools employed to ensure that in 2010, every permanent residence as well permanent office of businesses and public administration bodies has access to the efficient use of e-services, transmission of digital images and up- and downloading of digital music and video clips.
And although reports are flying around that Finland is the first place to do this, it seems Switzerland in fact did it first2:
Biel-Bienne, 13.09.2006 — The Federal Council is adapting the content of the universal service in order to take account of changing social and economic requirements. From 1 January 2008, the entire population will be able to have broadband access.
Here in New Zealand we have dreams3:
Terrestrial broadband coverage for 93–97 per cent of the population, with more affordable satellite solutions for remote locations.
That seems reasonable, given that there are still some isolated areas where even providing electricity or phone is still way too hard.
Cut it off
But we also have major threats to even basic Internet access. If the copyright industries have their way, like the French, we may yet be disconnected from the Internet at whim. In France4:
Internet disconnections of up to a year can be ordered by a single judge in a “streamlined” proceeding.
In New Zealand a recent law proposed disconnecting people accused of infringing copyright, though the proposal caused such an outcry that it’s currently being reviewed5:
The Copyright Tribunal, in addition to available relief by way of damages, injunctions, account of profits or otherwise, may consider ordering a subscriber to pay a fine or an ISP to terminate the subscriber’s internet account.
Rights or Rights Holders?
It seems clear that the notion of Internet as a basic right is being taken up around the world. Switzerland and Finland are leading the way in codifying access as a right.
Meanwhile big business, in the shape of Rights Holders, such as the movie and music industries, are desperately trying to take control of Internet access. They want to be able to deny people access to the Internet at their whim — in New Zealand a simple accusation may yet be enough. In France some legal process is required.
This struggle is by no means new. In our own time we have industries diverting rivers for their production purposes, leaving those downstream short of water6:
Water is important for everyone in Canterbury, whether it is used for drinking, recreational activities such as boating or fishing, irrigation for farming, or industry. Others simply value water as a part of our environment.
Every year pressure on the region’s water resources continues to grow. In the seven years to 2006 there was a 49% increase in water allocated for irrigation in Canterbury.
We have industries controlling genetically modified food crops, imposing monoculture and trying to force the purchase of each year’s seed grain7:
Genetic use restriction technology (GURT), colloquially known as terminator technology, is the name given to proposed methods for restricting the use of genetically modified plants by causing second generation seeds to be sterile.
It seems to be an eternal part of the human condition that we struggle to gain and keep our rights, while those with profit in their eye try to take them away.
I believe that access to knowledge and information is one of our rights, and that the Internet is an essential collection and distribution channel.
I’m glad to see countries acknowledging the role of the Internet in our lives and guaranteeing our access.
Let no-one remove our access on a whim.
1 Finland: Government Resolution: National plan of action for improving the infrastructure of the information society (pdf, 4 December 2008), listed on www.laajakaistainfo.fi/english/index.php.
2 Switzerland: OFCOM – Broadband in the universal service.
3 New Zealand Digital Strategy: The Digital Strategy: Connection.
6 Water : Canterbury Water Management Strategy.
Thanks also to: Finland becomes the first country to make broadband a legal right.