Internet as a human right in developing countries

Internet rights groups and lawyers have warned that high internet prices in developing countries could push them further behind in the fight against poverty. They have also said access to the internet should be a basic human right.

The comments by the Open Rights Group and Dr. Yaman Akdeniz, a professor of law, and director of Cyber-Rights.Org, follow figures released by the UN looking at the global disparity in fixed broadband access and cost in different countries.

It found that the Central African Republic is the most expensive place to get a fixed broadband connection, costing nearly 40 times the average monthly income there. Niger was also pinpointed as the most expensive place to access communication technologies, when landlines and mobiles  were taken into account.

The internet is seen by the UN as one way to pull developing countries out of poverty, claiming that broadband and connectivity could be used to develop e-health and e-education programmes.

The Open Right’s Group agrees. Florian Leppla, Campaigner at the Open Rights Group told TechEye: “Access to the internet will play an increasing role in education in developing countries. If internet access is not available to a large number of the population, we risk allowing these countries to fall further behind.”

However Dr Akdeniz reckons that providing sufficient and affordable internet is, unfortunately, not an enforceable right: “Such a significant and important right needs to be part of international treaties before it can be enforced as a right,” he told us.

He told us that although some countries, such as Finland, were already developing laws to recognise access to the internet as a fundamental right, in others, high prices and limited access policies are used to control citizens’ access to the internet.

The statistics were released ahead of the UN 2010 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit in New York on the 19th of September. MDGs are a set of targets intended to reduce global poverty and improve living standards by 2015. They include targets of education, fighting disease and promoting gender equality as well as communications technology.

The BBC said that with five years to go until the deadline to achieve the goals, progress remains uneven. Some countries have achieved many of the goals, while others – mostly in the developing world – may not realise any.

Leppla told us: “The international community has to ensure that the Millennium Development Goals to reduce global poverty are met by 2015. Access to tools like the internet will be a key tool in reducing poverty.

“Of course, governments must balance basic needs for food, water and shelter with the need for education, so they may not always feel that internet access is something they can fully prioritise,” he added.

Macao in China was found to be the cheapest country when it came to internet access costing 0.3 percent of the average monthly income.

According to the report only 0.7 per cent of the population in India has a broadband subscription. According to a separate report the country will see the number of internet users triple to 237 million from the current 81 million by 2015.

In its ‘Internet’s New Billion’ report, the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) said Brazil, Russia, India, China and Indonesia (BRICI) will have more than 1.2 billion internet users by 2015 – well over three times the number of Internet users in Japan and the US combined.

Describing India as a “low-maturity and high growth market”, the BCG said that the internet penetration rate in India is expected to reach 19 percent by 2015, up from the current seven percent.

“There are currently about 81 million internet users in India–a number that will nearly triple by around 2015 to 237 million,” the report said.

The UN and EU have said in the past that the internet should be a “basic human right” but it’s clear from this report that many countries either don’t see this as a priority or are not able to. And in some cases, as Dr Akdeniz pointed out, high prices and limited access policies are used as a means for control.

It’s also clear that some countries may not have realised the usage of technology can genuinely help in the fight against poverty.