Is broadband a human right?

Claire Thompson, freelance PR consultant, Waves PR

Following on from last week’s Amnesty International talk, I promised to write up some short posts around subjects arising from the event.

Panel at Amnesty International Debate

The first of these was:  is broadband a human right?

Now before you laugh me out of the blogosphere, consider this:

– across the globe, dictators are wanting to block it/deny access to it. There’s a reason for this!

– increasingly, governments are using the Internet to create access to their services.

Now note that this suggestion doesn’t say’ broadband to the home’ – just access to broadband.

In the UK, access to our legal system is largely based on ability to pay (which is another story) but made slightly simpler by the fact that access to information about what our legal position is, and our court system, can be found on-line. Increasingly we are calling on our legal rights to request information of government bodies. Using information found online, we can find our way around our arcane and complex corridors of power (or at least try),  sort out access to local government services, and find out who to complain to when things don’t work as well they can.

However upsetting and frustrating the process, access to broadband has brought government services, both information and access, closer to us.

Imagine, by contrast, that  information was something far more prosaic. Like where to go for water or aid/food. Or medicines. Or schooling programmes. Or where to find the whereabouts of missing relatives. Or where to find to support against oppression.

The situation in Iran has come to the attention of the world’s ordinary populace largely thanks to the high level of digital literacy of Iran’s youth (reference:  Annabelle Sreberny, Professor of Global Media and Communication, School of Oriental and African Studies), but consider how many genocides and atrocities we don’t hear about because of those country’s poor communications.

So although I laughed at the thought initially, I’m largely coming around to the idea of broadband access as a human right.

And it’s a right we should seek to protect. Susan Pointer, Director of Public Policy & Government Relations, Google, offered up a broad, strong hint at last week’s Amnesty International Technology debate (#aitech) that whilst China may present an attention grabbing issue requiring some considerable diplomacy and debate, things may not all be so rosy closer to home either.


  • By cyberdoyle, March 1, 2010 @ 6:37 pm

    access to the utility known as broadband is essential if we are to compete in the global village. Digitalbritain is lagging behind and is likely to become a third world country very soon. a 2 meg USC isn’t much good when korea is on a gig. We need ubiquitous access, which means we have to get fibre out to the rural areas and get rid of the stupid valuations office plan to tax lit fibre – it costs too much to get it back to the rurals. The alternative would be to break into the fibre as it passes through the rural areas? However it is done it has to be done soon…

  • By Parker, March 5, 2010 @ 8:59 am

    Interestingly, Cyberdoyle has brought the discussion back home to Britain. When we talk at heightened levels of global human rights or 2 meg USC, there are many people in the UK who just find if very hard to simply connect. Even Lily Allen tweeted last week to complain about her connection.
    We are in danger of widenning the digital divide if we don’t consider providing simpler broadband. It may be worth looking a nurse’s recent blog (at I am sure there are many other “normal” people like her who are facing basic broadband difficulties.

Other Links to this Post

  1. Is Technology Good For Human Rights? | Waves PR, freelance PR consultant, UK — March 2, 2010 @ 8:09 pm

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