United Nations Calls for a New Right – The Right to Broadband Access

by Yuyutsu Sen on November 16, 2011

According to a recent United Nations General Assembly Human Rights Council report, internet access is a basic human right as it allows people to exercise their right to the freedom of expression and opinion. The report entitled ‘Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression’ was released in the council’s 17th session.

Earlier UN has emphasized the important of internet access, but in this report the organization specifically mentions broadband access. The statement implies that the freedom of expression also includes the right to broadcast your opinions across the world.

The communication aspect of UN including global digital standards, satellite paths and radio spectrum is managed by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). According to the head of the ITU Dr. Hamadoun Toure, broadband is increasingly becoming necessary for both healthcare and education. Today social media can be equated to the printing press, which means that people not having access to broadband lack paper and ink to express their opinions.

Toure believes that access to broadband is the tipping point for overall economic development. It has the power to drive productivity and growth, promote economic competitiveness and generate jobs. In order to meet the millennium development goals, it is the most powerful tool available to policy makers. Although it is a legitimate argument, there many more critical issues like access to clean air, water and food that need to be addressed before focusing on internet infrastructure.

Other members of UTI’s Broadband Commission include Noble prize winner Muhammed Yunus, Cisco’s John Chambers and Carlos Slim Helu, who has been named as the richest man in the world by Forbes above Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. Toure’s call for the right to broadband access is backed by these major private sectors players.

At the recent Techonomy conference, Toure said that broadband has the power to keep a check on unsavory regimes. He expressed concerns that oppressive regimes that are aware of the power of broadband are likely to try and prevent people from having access to it. He added that communication is one of the most effective tools in the hands of masses and it should not be taken away from them. The results of a BBC survey covering 26 countries indicate that as many as 79% agree that access to internet is a basic human right.

The report also provides ten action points and a detailed framework for broadband deployment. The action points include using technology-neutral, competitive and fair models, combating climate change using broadband, creating useful applications and content, making wider broadband coverage possible, making efforts to provide broadband access to women, taking steps towards productive broadband projects and partnerships, supporting the development of a worldwide partnership for broadband access, evaluating, monitoring and modeling broadband, taking advantage of transformational change and linking broadband with knowledge societies and millennium development goals. While broadband access is essential, it remains to be seen whether declaring it a human right will make a difference.

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Written by: Yuyutsu Sen. www.digitcom.ca. Follow TheTelecomBlog.com by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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