A new survey for the BBC World Service finds that four in five people consider Internet access to be a fundamental human right
Nearly 80 percent of people worldwide consider access to the Internet to be a basic human right, rather than a privilege, according to a poll conducted by GlobeScan on behalf of the BBC World Service.
The survey – involving more than 27,000 adults across 26 countries – found that 87 percent of those who used the Internet felt that Internet access should be “the fundamental right of all people,” while more than 71 percent of non-Internet users felt that they should have the right to access the web.
“The right to communicate cannot be ignored,” Dr Hamadoun Toure, secretary-general of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), told BBC News. “The Internet is the most powerful potential source of enlightenment ever created.”
He added that governments must regard the Internet as basic infrastructure – just like roads, waste and water. “We have entered the knowledge society and everyone must have access to participate.”
The United Nations is increasingly pushing to have web access declared as a universal right, with Finland and Estonia having already passed laws to that effect.
Rights and restrictions
Countries where a very high proportion of people regarded Internet access as a fundamental right included South Korea (96 percent), Mexico (94 percent), and China (87 percent). However, these were also among the same countries where most web users did not feel they could express their opinions safely online.
Other countries where the majority of web users felt it was unsafe to express their opinions online included Japan (65 percent) France (69 percent) and Germany (72 percent). By contrast, most Indians, Ghanaians and Kenyans felt confident about expressing their opinions safely.
The survey uncovered some differences of opinion on the question of government regulation of the net. Slightly more than half (53 percent) of Internet users agreed that “the Internet should never be regulated by any level of government anywhere,” with respondents in South Korea and Nigeria feeling most strongly on this point. However, a majority of respondents in China and Europe disagreed, with 55 percent of British respondents believing that some level of government regulation of the Internet is acceptable.
Internet usage trends
The survey also examined Internet usage trends, with respondents asked to specify which aspect of the Internet they most valued. Most people (47 percent) identified the ability to find information of all sorts as the most essential use, with the next most popular aspect being the ability to interact and communicate with people (32 percent). The Internet’s role as a source of entertainment was the third most popular use, followed by its importance as a tool to locate, research, and buy products and services, and as a forum for creativity and sharing of content.
However, the Internet was also found to be a cause of concern for many respondents, with 32 percent admitting they were worried about the risk of fraud. This was found to be more of a public concern than violent and explicit content, which was mentioned by 27 percent, and threats to privacy, which was the major concern of 20 percent of respondents.
Closing the digital divide
The news comes amid ongoing efforts by the government to narrow the digital divide and get as many people in the UK as possible online. Earlier this month, the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills said that it plans to get around 60 percent of the 12.5 million people who are not online connected to the net by 2014. The plan is being supported by the Consortium for the Promotion Of Digital Participation – a group of 60 public and private organisations which works to encourage people to go online.
Meanwhile both the government and the opposition have plans to expand the reach of super-fast broadband in the UK. The government’s scheme to implement a broadband tax was approved in the Pre-Budget report, requiring anyone with a fixed-line phone to pay 50p per month, which will be used to provide super-fast broadband to 90 percent of UK households by the end of 2017.
The Conservative Party has also announced its own plans to improve the UK’s Internet infrastructure if it wins the general election, promising speeds of 100 Mbps for the “majority” of homes by 2017. In an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, shadow chancellor George Osborne said money from private investors would provide better cabling in towns and cities, while a portion of the BBC’s licence fee would be used to pay for coverage in less lucrative rural areas.