Is Internet Access A Human Right?

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An internet cafe in Istanbul. (UGUR CAN/AFP/Getty Images)

A curious op ed appeared in The New York Times recently, titled “Internet Access is Not a Human Right.” In this piece—which I read as I do most news and media, via my computer—Vinton Cerf, a “father” of the Internet, makes an argument that despite the critical role of Information Communication Technologies (the internet) in the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, access to the Internet is not a human right.

I should note that his right to express himself so is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to… seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

The curious bit of his piece though, isn’t the claim that Internet Access is not a human right, but rather the exceptionally narrow portrayal of human rights from a legal and philosophical perspective.

Here’s how human rights work: We have an established body of international law that represents the aspirations of humanity for each human being in realizing their inherent dignity and autonomy. States are obligated under this body of law to enact domestic laws or policies to realize those rights. Simple stuff.

But people, societies, and cultures change. Regimes and systems of governance change. And faster than anything else, technologies change and science produces ever greater knowledge of truth. And that means that policies and interpretation of what human rights guarantee must also change.

As a relevant aside,

Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits. (Article 27 of the UDHR).

In just over a decade, communication technologies have become indispensable to the world’s most marginalized people. Indeed, loss of access would be a mere annoyance to me. In places from Sub-Saharan Africa to the most impoverished communities here in the US, however, loss of access could mean an immediate threat to lives and livelihoods. No, not for me or Mr. Cerf.

And the increasing necessity of internet access for the world’s most impoverished as it relates to health, education, employment, the arts, gender equality—all things we have the right to enjoy means that Information Technologies (yes, the Internet) are inseparable from the rights themselves.

What is the Internet? It is an endless network of people, information, and knowledge. And resting on the architecture of the Internet is a digital public space found in social and professional networking that rivals the richness of any physical town square. And—using Cerf’s logic—while access to the physical town square may not be a human right in isolation, it has always been for most inseparable from the right to association and expression. And denial of access to the town square through curfews, martial law, or emergency rules are tantamount to restriction on association and expression.

The rights enshrined in the UDHR are to be enjoyed by all people, in all places, and at all times. Technological progress will always change how people enjoy their fundamental rights, and require governments and people to reaffirm the inseparability rights, and the methods of enjoyment of those rights.

In a recent UN report—published at the height of the uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa— Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue acknowledges the pivotal role the internet plays for the exercise of human rights:

The Special Rapporteur underscores the unique and transformative nature of the Internet not only to  enable individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole.

I get asked by students more than occasionally: Given that the UDHR and the core human rights covenants prohibit discrimination based on gender or on race, why do we also have CEDAW? Or CERD? (Separate treaties relating to  discrimination against women and racial discrimination).

The simplified answer is: We have them because the original guarantees as elaborated weren’t enough. We have them because our evolving understanding of the rights enshrined in the UDHR required new instruments to guarantee those rights. We have them because someone, somewhere, refused to make the necessary changes to policy or practice to guarantee some segment of the human family the rights they were already guaranteed in the UDHR.

Because someone, somewhere said “that’s not a human right.”

Follow Scott Edwards on Twitter @sxedwards

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77 thoughts on “Is Internet Access A Human Right?

  1. As someone who has worked in International Development for over 25 years and, in particular, extending Internet access throughout the developing world under the guise of USAID support for that activity, I want to lend a little support to Vint Cerf and his position. Suggesting that Internet access is a human right falls short of what has to be put in place prior to anyone being able to assert a "right of access." Many governments maintain a stake in the national telecommunications provider and keep prices high often in order to underwrite the party in power (Albania, Gabon, Senegal). This means that Internet access is limited to those who can afford it. I don't see the UN proclaiming that Internet access needs to be low-cost so everyone can afford it. In a presentation I made to 17 African Telecom ministers I pointed out that if they were to reduce their pricing the uptick in the use of the Internet would more than make up for the reduced pricing. Eastern Europe found that this model works and therefore the price for access at home has declined by nearly 90% across most of Eastern Europe except in Belarus.

    I worked on bringing Internet access to Egypt when it simply was too expensive for the common family to afford. Government policies changed making it more affordable which led to a great uptake in service which meant more and more people eventually had access to Twitter and FB over time. In a way, the Egyptian government was responsible for its eventual downfall.

    My point here is that it takes a while for many countries to get to a point where Internet access is ubiquitous. It takes a very large financial commitment on the part of telecom companies to put in place all the elements which can ultimately convey access to the furthest reaches of a country.

    Once a country does have Internet services which people have grown used to, governments like China, Iran, Cuba and Tunisia can put limits in-place which restrict access to information and it is here where I would join you and suggest that it SHOULD be the right of all people to have access to an unrestricted Internet. It was Ironic that the World Summit on the Information Society was held in Tunisia which openly restricted access to information on the Internet.

    While I would love to support the belief that the Internet is a human right I believe it is more important for humans to live after being born, not die from childbirth, avoid HIV or live longer with HIV and be able to eat and drink water. Revolutions took place long before the advent of the Internet and people will eventually revolt when prevailing conditions become so bad that death by revolution is better than life under dictatorship.

  2. As someone who has worked in International Development for over 25 years and, in particular, extending Internet access throughout the developing world under the guise of USAID support for that activity, I want to lend a little support to Vint Cerf and his position. Suggesting that Internet access is a human right falls short of what has to be put in place prior to anyone being able to assert a “right of access.” Many governments maintain a stake in the national telecommunications provider and keep prices high often in order to underwrite the party in power (Albania, Gabon, Senegal). This means that Internet access is limited to those who can afford it. I don’t see the UN proclaiming that Internet access needs to be low-cost so everyone can afford it. In a presentation I made to 17 African Telecom ministers I pointed out that if they were to reduce their pricing the uptick in the use of the Internet would more than make up for the reduced pricing. Eastern Europe found that this model works and therefore the price for access at home has declined by nearly 90% across most of Eastern Europe except in Belarus.

    I worked on bringing Internet access to Egypt when it simply was too expensive for the common family to afford. Government policies changed making it more affordable which led to a great uptake in service which meant more and more people eventually had access to Twitter and FB over time. In a way, the Egyptian government was responsible for its eventual downfall.

    My point here is that it takes a while for many countries to get to a point where Internet access is ubiquitous. It takes a very large financial commitment on the part of telecom companies to put in place all the elements which can ultimately convey access to the furthest reaches of a country.

    Once a country does have Internet services which people have grown used to, governments like China, Iran, Cuba and Tunisia can put limits in-place which restrict access to information and it is here where I would join you and suggest that it SHOULD be the right of all people to have access to an unrestricted Internet. It was Ironic that the World Summit on the Information Society was held in Tunisia which openly restricted access to information on the Internet.

    While I would love to support the belief that the Internet is a human right I believe it is more important for humans to live after being born, not die from childbirth, avoid HIV or live longer with HIV and be able to eat and drink water. Revolutions took place long before the advent of the Internet and people will eventually revolt when prevailing conditions become so bad that death by revolution is better than life under dictatorship.

  3. In the UK there is some real concern about the ways in which the Terrorist Act 2006 limits freedom of expression in relation to internet activity. Arguments for and against limiting expression in certain circumstances abound. What seems key is that this Act is part of a culture of surveillance and control in the UK which is encroaching upon fundamental rights such as the right to freedom of expression. It is concerning that once inititatives such as the Terrorist Act are established restrictions on this civil right will become 'commonplace'.

  4. Asking Mr. Cerf whether Internet access is a human right is a foolish as asking Gutenberg whether a free press is a human right – Gutenberg may have helped establish the printing press, but he could not be expected to encompass the ramifications of his invention hundreds of years later. Mr. Cerf is similarly short-sighted in his opinion, and why not? Unlike young adults of today, Mr. Cerf has not grown up with the Internet as the de-facto means of interpersonal communication.

    Speaking as an Internet pioneer myself (see RFC 1436) I am all too aware that the perspective from the start of something is much different from the perspective a the other end of its development: I had an opportunity to invest in the launch of Yahoo, but I scoffed at the notion of basing a business on a search engine. Hell I'd WRITTEN search engines, any programmer could, how could you make a business out of one? And so I am still working for a living…

    Mr. Cerf's contributions are unquestioned, but just as Columbus got some things wrong when he discovered his western route to India, so Mr. Cerf cannot be expected to get everything right either, and in this he is wrong.

    Internet access is simply COMMUNICATION, and the ability to communicate, and communicate widely, IS a human right, or else speech is the domain of the wealthy and powerful and the rest of us are muttering to ourselves in a closed room. And if Internet access seems like a luxury that would be impossible to extend to starving children on the Horn of Africa, I suggest that this serves to highlight the economic injustice of letting children starve on the Horn of Africa while the rest of us are merrily streaming YouTube videos of Epic MealTime.

  5. In the UK there is some real concern about the ways in which the Terrorist Act 2006 limits freedom of expression in relation to internet activity. Arguments for and against limiting expression in certain circumstances abound. What seems key is that this Act is part of a culture of surveillance and control in the UK which is encroaching upon fundamental rights such as the right to freedom of expression. It is concerning that once inititatives such as the Terrorist Act are established restrictions on this civil right will become ‘commonplace’.

  6. Asking Mr. Cerf whether Internet access is a human right is a foolish as asking Gutenberg whether a free press is a human right – Gutenberg may have helped establish the printing press, but he could not be expected to encompass the ramifications of his invention hundreds of years later. Mr. Cerf is similarly short-sighted in his opinion, and why not? Unlike young adults of today, Mr. Cerf has not grown up with the Internet as the de-facto means of interpersonal communication.

    Speaking as an Internet pioneer myself (see RFC 1436) I am all too aware that the perspective from the start of something is much different from the perspective a the other end of its development: I had an opportunity to invest in the launch of Yahoo, but I scoffed at the notion of basing a business on a search engine. Hell I’d WRITTEN search engines, any programmer could, how could you make a business out of one? And so I am still working for a living…

    Mr. Cerf’s contributions are unquestioned, but just as Columbus got some things wrong when he discovered his western route to India, so Mr. Cerf cannot be expected to get everything right either, and in this he is wrong.

    Internet access is simply COMMUNICATION, and the ability to communicate, and communicate widely, IS a human right, or else speech is the domain of the wealthy and powerful and the rest of us are muttering to ourselves in a closed room. And if Internet access seems like a luxury that would be impossible to extend to starving children on the Horn of Africa, I suggest that this serves to highlight the economic injustice of letting children starve on the Horn of Africa while the rest of us are merrily streaming YouTube videos of Epic MealTime.

  7. I shared a comment on this via Twitter, but here goes again:

    Access to information is unquestionably a human right. Internet access is merely one of the means of communication, which include others like print media, radio etc. It tends to be forgotten by the 'first world' however, that Africans do not have the same access to the internet that they have. In the US penetration is probably close to 100 percent and Europe probably close to that figure, but in Africa it is significantly lower. Where there is internet access, there are also incredible bandwidth problems, including slow and expensive internet!

    Some give credit to Twitter and Facebook as initiators of the 'Arab Spring', for example, but I would question this conclusion. Certainly they helped 'facilitate' the revolutions, but the causes of the uprising are to be found elsewhere, in the repressive conditions under which people were living, the autocratic and corrupt regimes, in turn causing the people of those countries to say 'enough is enough'. I am certain the uprisings would have still happened even if Twitter and Facebook had not been accessible (and in some cases they were blocked, of course).

    In my own country, my concern is not as much about internet access for the masses, as it is for good education and literacy (and by this I mean access to books). The internet obviously has a wealth of good information, but there is also a lot of rubbish out there. While I would obviously urge the spread of internet accessibility in my own country and Africa in general, I would vouch that this is not going to be the answer to some of the problems we face.

    Cellphone access, for eg, is far higher than internet access, and yet it is mainly so that people use their cellphones for COMMUNICATION rather than INFORMATION, and how to rectify that balance is the critical question. I have noticed in my own environment that when people are given unrestricted internet access, they are immediately drawn to the social media aspects, such as Facebook and of course YouTube, but are not (unfortunately) using the great wealth of material available to improve on their skills and or knowledge-base.

    So to conclude, I would not agree that access to the internet is a 'human' right in itself because it remains a tool, albeit an important one at times. Would one ask for examlple, whether access to radio, or access to newspapers, are also human rights? Access to information in the broader sense, however, is certainly a human right and the current Access to Information campaign on our continent is certainly one worth supporting so as to ensure our people are armed with as much information as possible to make good and informed choices and to facilitate transparent governance overall.

  8. I shared a comment on this via Twitter, but here goes again:

    Access to information is unquestionably a human right. Internet access is merely one of the means of communication, which include others like print media, radio etc. It tends to be forgotten by the ‘first world’ however, that Africans do not have the same access to the internet that they have. In the US penetration is probably close to 100 percent and Europe probably close to that figure, but in Africa it is significantly lower. Where there is internet access, there are also incredible bandwidth problems, including slow and expensive internet!

    Some give credit to Twitter and Facebook as initiators of the ‘Arab Spring’, for example, but I would question this conclusion. Certainly they helped ‘facilitate’ the revolutions, but the causes of the uprising are to be found elsewhere, in the repressive conditions under which people were living, the autocratic and corrupt regimes, in turn causing the people of those countries to say ‘enough is enough’. I am certain the uprisings would have still happened even if Twitter and Facebook had not been accessible (and in some cases they were blocked, of course).

    In my own country, my concern is not as much about internet access for the masses, as it is for good education and literacy (and by this I mean access to books). The internet obviously has a wealth of good information, but there is also a lot of rubbish out there. While I would obviously urge the spread of internet accessibility in my own country and Africa in general, I would vouch that this is not going to be the answer to some of the problems we face.

    Cellphone access, for eg, is far higher than internet access, and yet it is mainly so that people use their cellphones for COMMUNICATION rather than INFORMATION, and how to rectify that balance is the critical question. I have noticed in my own environment that when people are given unrestricted internet access, they are immediately drawn to the social media aspects, such as Facebook and of course YouTube, but are not (unfortunately) using the great wealth of material available to improve on their skills and or knowledge-base.

    So to conclude, I would not agree that access to the internet is a ‘human’ right in itself because it remains a tool, albeit an important one at times. Would one ask for examlple, whether access to radio, or access to newspapers, are also human rights? Access to information in the broader sense, however, is certainly a human right and the current Access to Information campaign on our continent is certainly one worth supporting so as to ensure our people are armed with as much information as possible to make good and informed choices and to facilitate transparent governance overall.

  9. (this post is adapted from a Facebook thread of mine)

    Though the article is lucid and accurate in its details, there is great wrong in its stance. Cerf makes an excellent point about how to define and establish human rights: that the best way to characterize them "is to identify the outcomes we are trying to insure". And he concedes that, not as a human right but as a civil right underwritten by law, Internet access can be made a legality.

    Unfortunately his article's thrust appears to play into the hands of those (including governments) who would happily suppress Internet access in order to facilitate depriving people of both civil and human rights. I disagree with that thrust altogether. We don't define air to breathe as a human right either, but without it we die.

    The article's headline reads: "Technology is a means of enabling freedom, not an end in itself."

    From the way the story was headlined – a great way to claim and set the frame for reading, by the way – I sensed that something larger than the article's content was being fronted here. Cerf's credentials and his approach both have the feel of an engineering POV, which in this case appears devoid of awareness of the greater issues at stake. I wonder how it got that headline, and why it was left to stand that way, given its apparent potential for misuse.

    Human rights are progressive: they expand as human potential expands. The true issue here is not about the technology; it is about allowing and nurturing modern human beings and their societies to thrive.

  10. (this post is adapted from a Facebook thread of mine)

    Though the article is lucid and accurate in its details, there is great wrong in its stance. Cerf makes an excellent point about how to define and establish human rights: that the best way to characterize them “is to identify the outcomes we are trying to insure”. And he concedes that, not as a human right but as a civil right underwritten by law, Internet access can be made a legality.

    Unfortunately his article’s thrust appears to play into the hands of those (including governments) who would happily suppress Internet access in order to facilitate depriving people of both civil and human rights. I disagree with that thrust altogether. We don’t define air to breathe as a human right either, but without it we die.

    The article’s headline reads: “Technology is a means of enabling freedom, not an end in itself.”

    From the way the story was headlined – a great way to claim and set the frame for reading, by the way – I sensed that something larger than the article’s content was being fronted here. Cerf’s credentials and his approach both have the feel of an engineering POV, which in this case appears devoid of awareness of the greater issues at stake. I wonder how it got that headline, and why it was left to stand that way, given its apparent potential for misuse.

    Human rights are progressive: they expand as human potential expands. The true issue here is not about the technology; it is about allowing and nurturing modern human beings and their societies to thrive.

  11. Internet access is certainly NOT a right. Should it be available to everyone? Sure. I was surfing late last night and I'd have to say that because the internet seems like its more saturated with "crap" than helpful websites it may NOT be best communication tool for the third world.

    If the internet is a "right" then it also should be a right to have your personal information removed from being indexed by Google and put up for anyone in the world to see.

  12. Internet access is certainly NOT a right. Should it be available to everyone? Sure. I was surfing late last night and I’d have to say that because the internet seems like its more saturated with “crap” than helpful websites it may NOT be best communication tool for the third world.

    If the internet is a “right” then it also should be a right to have your personal information removed from being indexed by Google and put up for anyone in the world to see.

  13. You need to explain that there are civil and political rights and then economic and social rights, and that while the UN recognizes their interdependence, the US does not. And that's ok, there are legitimate philosophical debates to be had about the difference between needs and rights, social goods and rights, and policies and rights. Because many of the countries invoking developmental approaches to the Internet or economic and social rights are in fact the first to over-control the Internet and pursue these goals disingenuously.

    There are enough existing rights to pursue Internet freedom as Amnesty has in fact laid out here that we don't need to negotiate new *special* rights to Internet *access*.
    http://3dblogger.typepad.com/wired_state/2012/01/

  14. You need to explain that there are civil and political rights and then economic and social rights, and that while the UN recognizes their interdependence, the US does not. And that's ok, there are legitimate philosophical debates to be had about the difference between needs and rights, social goods and rights, and policies and rights. Because many of the countries invoking developmental approaches to the Internet or economic and social rights are in fact the first to over-control the Internet and pursue these goals disingenuously.

    There are enough existing rights to pursue Internet freedom as Amnesty has in fact laid out here that we don't need to negotiate new *special* rights to Internet *access*.
    http://3dblogger.typepad.com/wired_state/2012/01/

  15. You need to explain that there are civil and political rights and then economic and social rights, and that while the UN recognizes their interdependence, the US does not. And that's ok, there are legitimate philosophical debates to be had about the difference between needs and rights, social goods and rights, and policies and rights. Because many of the countries invoking developmental approaches to the Internet or economic and social rights are in fact the first to over-control the Internet and pursue these goals disingenuously.

    There are enough existing rights to pursue Internet freedom as Amnesty has in fact laid out here that we don't need to negotiate new *special* rights to Internet *access*.
    http://3dblogger.typepad.com/wired_state/2012/01/

  16. You need to explain that there are civil and political rights and then economic and social rights, and that while the UN recognizes their interdependence, the US does not. And that’s ok, there are legitimate philosophical debates to be had about the difference between needs and rights, social goods and rights, and policies and rights. Because many of the countries invoking developmental approaches to the Internet or economic and social rights are in fact the first to over-control the Internet and pursue these goals disingenuously.

    There are enough existing rights to pursue Internet freedom as Amnesty has in fact laid out here that we don’t need to negotiate new *special* rights to Internet *access*.

    http://3dblogger.typepad.com/wired_state/2012/01/cerf-is-right-for-the-wrong-reasons-or-the-humming-engineers.html

  17. The internet is penetrating into our lives more and more. It can provide access to all other forms of media – newspaper, radio, television, etc. It provides access to the yellow and white pages. you can do your shopping online, pay your bills, organise your travel itinerary and keep in touch with friends. Many of you take this for granted because you could do all this fairly easily without the internet. But for someone who has a disability – and I'm blind – it has meant that I can hold down a meaningful job and paticipate and contribute to society. I've gone from information deprivation to almost information overload and sure, I even use it for entertainment. I have the choice. Yet not everything on the net is accessible so I don't always have the choice, and I'm unable to access the information I want or express my views and feelings. So I'm writing all this to demonstrate that while it may be a tool to exercise rights, more and more, it's becoming an indispensible tool. Sensorship and curbing access to the internet is a direct violation of our freedom to express ourselves, freedom to make choices and other rights too, and that applies to everyone whether we are disadvantaged through disability, poverty etc, or not. And finally, this does not mean we should surrender our privacy to Google or anyone else to obtain the 'privilege' of the internet.

  18. The internet is penetrating into our lives more and more. It can provide access to all other forms of media – newspaper, radio, television, etc. It provides access to the yellow and white pages. you can do your shopping online, pay your bills, organise your travel itinerary and keep in touch with friends. Many of you take this for granted because you could do all this fairly easily without the internet. But for someone who has a disability – and I’m blind – it has meant that I can hold down a meaningful job and paticipate and contribute to society. I’ve gone from information deprivation to almost information overload and sure, I even use it for entertainment. I have the choice. Yet not everything on the net is accessible so I don’t always have the choice, and I’m unable to access the information I want or express my views and feelings. So I’m writing all this to demonstrate that while it may be a tool to exercise rights, more and more, it’s becoming an indispensible tool. Sensorship and curbing access to the internet is a direct violation of our freedom to express ourselves, freedom to make choices and other rights too, and that applies to everyone whether we are disadvantaged through disability, poverty etc, or not. And finally, this does not mean we should surrender our privacy to Google or anyone else to obtain the ‘privilege’ of the internet.

  19. Sorry, I don't believe that the internet is a human right. Information should be free and available and I think the net is wonderful tool but calling access to the internet a human right invites mockery. While I am all for universal access, spin it some other way. Food, health care, living wages are all things that are basic and cannot not be contested seriously. You lose credibility when you do this sort of thing.

  20. The Internet is owned by corporations and, in some cases, countries. In order for internet access to be a "basic human right", it would have to be freely available everywhere to everyone, and would have be be collectively owned by all of humanity. A socialist principle. One I believe most of you would oppose.

    As for "free speech" on the Internet, you don't have that, either. You can't come into my house and exercise "free speech", since it is not your property nor is it public property. Even "speech" on public property can be limited (e.g. incitement, disrupting necessary services, etc.), and this is a recognized fact in International Law.

    To follow up on my post to Facebook on this topic, I will state that we live in a world of scarcity. The Internet only has so much bandwidth, only so much food can be grown, there is only so much potable water, and so on. Since this article is about the Internet, I will cover that. There are about 6-7 billion people on the Earth now. If you gave all of them free Internet access, the whole infrastructure of the Net would be so overtaxed that it could take days to load a single web page, if you could even get a connection.

  21. Sorry, I don’t believe that the internet is a human right. Information should be free and available and I think the net is wonderful tool but calling access to the internet a human right invites mockery. While I am all for universal access, spin it some other way. Food, health care, living wages are all things that are basic and cannot not be contested seriously. You lose credibility when you do this sort of thing.

  22. There was no right to freedom of the press before Gutenberg invented the press in 1453. Yet unquestionably freedom of the press is a human right. Even though newspapers and media are generally owned by corporations. So new technologies create new rights.

    And a side note to David Walters – accusing someone of being a socialist because you disagree with them doesn't mean they are wrong. It means you are. If means you haven't got a reason for your position and are down to calling names. The subtext of saying "you're a socialist" is the admission that you are moron with no reasons to offer for what you say.

  23. To Jack Kessler:

    I didn't call anyone any names. You did, and by your own reasoning you have nothing intelligent to add to this discussion, I will not call you a name you already called yourself, "by admission".

    It is a fact that the public ownership of goods and services IS a Marxist/Socialist principle. That is what *I* said, in fewer words. You, however, called me a moron. I will not stoop to your level and call you names.

    Even if you reject the idea that the public ownership of the Internet is a Socialist principle, the rest of what I have said remains cogent and true. The Internet is already being stretched pretty thin, and with very little infrastructure expansion happening, adding even 100 million people to the Internet would result in rolling Internet black outs and brown outs, since the demand would exceed the supply.

  24. "adding even 100 million people to the Internet would result in rolling Internet black outs and brown outs, since the demand would exceed the supply."

    Completely incorrect and entirely unsubstantiated. I think the applicable term is 'concern trolling.'

    Moore's Law has served to keep the capacity of the Internet far in excess of its demands, and this will continue for the foreseeable future, while public participation in the Internet can grow only as fast as the much slower pace of increase in the human population.

    If you have a legitimate concern in this regard I suggest you provide citations to back up your worries. Otherwise such phenomena as growing international authoritarianism, income inequality, and climate change present themselves as much greater threats both to the Internet and to individual rights and freedoms.

  25. I agree with Bob Alberti. One example of how capacity outpaces demand is that a 1 TB drive can now be had for just over a hundred dollars. It is not that long ago that there was not even the word 'terabyte', let alone terabyte drives and let alone affordable terabyte drives.

  26. Bob, I have a better idea. Why don't YOU use citations? For many years now, Internet engineers, including the one at my workplace, have been warning that at current sustained growth levels, the US will be facing, at the least, rolling Internet brown outs without some major infrastructure building that is not occurring.

    Oh, and I'd like to know your credentials. Especially since you seem to want to blame me for "growing international authoritarianism, income inequality, and climate change", because I didn't cite sources.

  27. Jack,

    The word "terabyte" has existed, at least in theory, since computers were first invented and the word "byte" was coined. "Tera" is just a prefix, meaning in the sciences 1 x 10^12 (one trillion). The cost of computer hardware, such as hard drives has little to do with the total aggregate Internet bandwidth.

  28. As if my rights to speech and communication emanate from the United Nations, the United States or any other governmental organization. I had those rights long before any government was ever established on this planet. Those of you who don't know that deserve the scraps the governments in this world toss you and call "rights."

  29. The Internet is owned by corporations and, in some cases, countries. In order for internet access to be a “basic human right”, it would have to be freely available everywhere to everyone, and would have be be collectively owned by all of humanity. A socialist principle. One I believe most of you would oppose.

    As for “free speech” on the Internet, you don’t have that, either. You can’t come into my house and exercise “free speech”, since it is not your property nor is it public property. Even “speech” on public property can be limited (e.g. incitement, disrupting necessary services, etc.), and this is a recognized fact in International Law.

    To follow up on my post to Facebook on this topic, I will state that we live in a world of scarcity. The Internet only has so much bandwidth, only so much food can be grown, there is only so much potable water, and so on. Since this article is about the Internet, I will cover that. There are about 6-7 billion people on the Earth now. If you gave all of them free Internet access, the whole infrastructure of the Net would be so overtaxed that it could take days to load a single web page, if you could even get a connection.

  30. There was no right to freedom of the press before Gutenberg invented the press in 1453. Yet unquestionably freedom of the press is a human right. Even though newspapers and media are generally owned by corporations. So new technologies create new rights.

    And a side note to David Walters – accusing someone of being a socialist because you disagree with them doesn’t mean they are wrong. It means you are. If means you haven’t got a reason for your position and are down to calling names. The subtext of saying “you’re a socialist” is the admission that you are moron with no reasons to offer for what you say.

  31. To Jack Kessler:

    I didn’t call anyone any names. You did, and by your own reasoning you have nothing intelligent to add to this discussion, I will not call you a name you already called yourself, “by admission”.

    It is a fact that the public ownership of goods and services IS a Marxist/Socialist principle. That is what *I* said, in fewer words. You, however, called me a moron. I will not stoop to your level and call you names.

    Even if you reject the idea that the public ownership of the Internet is a Socialist principle, the rest of what I have said remains cogent and true. The Internet is already being stretched pretty thin, and with very little infrastructure expansion happening, adding even 100 million people to the Internet would result in rolling Internet black outs and brown outs, since the demand would exceed the supply.

  32. To David Walters:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipv6

    You are correct, we will soon be out of IPv4 address 0.0.0.0 – 255.255.255.255
    That's 4 billion addresses. Many of those are reserved for special use (private ip, testing, etc)

    IPv6 has 2^128 address. That's several hundred times more than the current world population.

    The transition to IPv6 is happening in June this year.

  33. “adding even 100 million people to the Internet would result in rolling Internet black outs and brown outs, since the demand would exceed the supply.”

    Completely incorrect and entirely unsubstantiated. I think the applicable term is ‘concern trolling.’

    Moore’s Law has served to keep the capacity of the Internet far in excess of its demands, and this will continue for the foreseeable future, while public participation in the Internet can grow only as fast as the much slower pace of increase in the human population.

    If you have a legitimate concern in this regard I suggest you provide citations to back up your worries. Otherwise such phenomena as growing international authoritarianism, income inequality, and climate change present themselves as much greater threats both to the Internet and to individual rights and freedoms.

  34. so lets make it a human right. I say WE NEED A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROTECTING OUR FREE USE OF THE INTERNET.

  35. I agree with Bob Alberti. One example of how capacity outpaces demand is that a 1 TB drive can now be had for just over a hundred dollars. It is not that long ago that there was not even the word ‘terabyte’, let alone terabyte drives and let alone affordable terabyte drives.

  36. Bob, I have a better idea. Why don’t YOU use citations? For many years now, Internet engineers, including the one at my workplace, have been warning that at current sustained growth levels, the US will be facing, at the least, rolling Internet brown outs without some major infrastructure building that is not occurring.

    Oh, and I’d like to know your credentials. Especially since you seem to want to blame me for “growing international authoritarianism, income inequality, and climate change”, because I didn’t cite sources.

  37. Jack,

    The word “terabyte” has existed, at least in theory, since computers were first invented and the word “byte” was coined. “Tera” is just a prefix, meaning in the sciences 1 x 10^12 (one trillion). The cost of computer hardware, such as hard drives has little to do with the total aggregate Internet bandwidth.

  38. To David Walters:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipv6

    You are correct, we will soon be out of IPv4 address 0.0.0.0 – 255.255.255.255
    That's 4 billion addresses. Many of those are reserved for special use (private ip, testing, etc)

    IPv6 has 2^128 address. That's several hundred times more than the current world population.

    The transition to IPv6 is happening in June this year.

  39. To David Walters:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipv6

    You are correct, we will soon be out of IPv4 address 0.0.0.0 – 255.255.255.255
    That's 4 billion addresses. Many of those are reserved for special use (private ip, testing, etc)

    IPv6 has 2^128 address. That's several hundred times more than the current world population.

    The transition to IPv6 is happening in June this year.

  40. "Internet access" may or may not be a human right: it depends on what you mean by internet access. That is, the internet is a tool, as is the printing press.

    Freedom of the press is a human right, but printing presses themselves are not, nor is permission to *use* a printing press. As Twain said, "Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one." In that sense, internet access is not–as I see it– a human right.

    Yet, freedom of the press *is* a human right–if what is meant (and in my view, this is the sense in which the term freedom of the press is generally understood) is that all humans have the right to the unobstructed employment of the *purpose* for which presses are used.

    But a parallel between the printing press and the internet is limited. Printing presses are unidirectional–expressing, whereas the internet is multidimensional–expressing, interacting, accessing information, etc etc.

    Freedom of the press does not necessarily imply that *reading* is a human right, or at least not exactly. It is the more abstract right to access *in principle* that which has been printed. It is not a human right to be able to get any book you want for free.

    It may seem as though I'm splitting hairs or playing word games, but it is the *principle* of unobstructed access which is guaranteed, which is a human right–not the unobstructed "access" to any particular tool (such as a given machine, or a specific line in to the net's infrastructure).

  41. To David Walters:

    My apologies, I stated IPv6 has several hundred times more addresses. Upon double checking, IPv6 has one billion x one billion x one million addresses more than IPv4.

    That's a total of 340 undecillion (yes, that's a real number) for IPv4

  42. As if my rights to speech and communication emanate from the United Nations, the United States or any other governmental organization. I had those rights long before any government was ever established on this planet. Those of you who don’t know that deserve the scraps the governments in this world toss you and call “rights.”

  43. David Walter; you don't seem to understand how debate works: if you make an assertion then you had best support it. As the "negative" in the debate I *could* bother to refute you with citation, but YOU are the one making the assertion in the first place so I don't really need to unless you come close to actually making a worthwhile assertion.

    If you post "Rockefeller Center is full of pink elephants right now!" then it's up to YOU to post a picture of the elephants. It's not really incumbent upon me to find a live webcam on Rockefeller Center and post a screencap demonstrating that you're wrong. I could, but why should I?

  44. Bob, I fully understand how debate works, but I don't believe you do. You made claims in your reply to me that remain unsupported by citations while demanding proof of my statement.

    It is a well documented fact that the Internet in (we'll take the USA as an example) has a limited amount of bandwidth – this does not go up by itself, though it can go down if the backbone providers' servers go down or if the physical cables are damaged. It is also well documented that a rather large group of Internet engineers have been warning that at the current rates of growth of Internet subscribers, there will be rolling Internet brown outs and possibly even black outs if we do not increase our infrastructure (meaning more cables, more satellites, and so on), sometime during this decade.

    I assume you know how to use Google, so I will let YOU find the articles as I have neither the time nor inclination to educate you. Once you read the articles you find, you can tell me how a limited resource (bandwidth) automagically increases over time without investment.

  45. Dave K,

    Yes, IPv6 has enough addresses to give everyone a unique address. The problem is that this does not mean that everyone could use the Internet at the same time. In my posts above, I already noted that bandwidth is a limited resource and that we already have demand growing at a rate that will cause necessary limitations of service if we, and other nations of the world, don't invest in more infrastructure now rather than later. This is well documented.

    To close with an answer to the original post of this article, I believe that Internet access can only become a basic human right if several changes occur. One is that access would have to be without cost (not likely in the near future). Another is that there would have to be the infrastructure (bandwidth) for ALL people on the Earth to use it at one time with no brown outs or black outs. It is possible in the future, though – I guess I'm just an optimist.

  46. Is internet access a human right? Is being able to answer any question at several touches of a button a human right? Is being connected to the mass human consciousness as it is expressed in cyberspace a human right?
    Regardless of what content you wish to look at, or are allowed to look at, it seems to me that access certainly should be a human right. One can always choose not to use it.
    If others are restricting your access via some means, whether that means they are censoring which pages you can see, or they have removed your computer or your modem or your cable or whatever other physical means you use to access the internet, is that violating your human rights?
    It feels to me like it is. I am an adult, if I pay for the content I use, why should I not have full access to whatever I want to look at? Why should anyone else be able to stop me?

  47. so lets make it a human right. I say WE NEED A CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROTECTING OUR FREE USE OF THE INTERNET.

  48. To David Walters:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ipv6

    You are correct, we will soon be out of IPv4 address 0.0.0.0 – 255.255.255.255
    That’s 4 billion addresses. Many of those are reserved for special use (private ip, testing, etc)

    IPv6 has 2^128 address. That’s several hundred times more than the current world population.

    The transition to IPv6 is happening in June this year.

  49. “Internet access” may or may not be a human right: it depends on what you mean by internet access. That is, the internet is a tool, as is the printing press.

    Freedom of the press is a human right, but printing presses themselves are not, nor is permission to *use* a printing press. As Twain said, “Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.” In that sense, internet access is not–as I see it– a human right.

    Yet, freedom of the press *is* a human right–if what is meant (and in my view, this is the sense in which the term freedom of the press is generally understood) is that all humans have the right to the unobstructed employment of the *purpose* for which presses are used.

    But a parallel between the printing press and the internet is limited. Printing presses are unidirectional–expressing, whereas the internet is multidimensional–expressing, interacting, accessing information, etc etc.

    Freedom of the press does not necessarily imply that *reading* is a human right, or at least not exactly. It is the more abstract right to access *in principle* that which has been printed. It is not a human right to be able to get any book you want for free.

    It may seem as though I’m splitting hairs or playing word games, but it is the *principle* of unobstructed access which is guaranteed, which is a human right–not the unobstructed “access” to any particular tool (such as a given machine, or a specific line in to the net’s infrastructure).

  50. To David Walters:

    My apologies, I stated IPv6 has several hundred times more addresses. Upon double checking, IPv6 has one billion x one billion x one million addresses more than IPv4.

    That’s a total of 340 undecillion (yes, that’s a real number) for IPv4

  51. David Walter; you don’t seem to understand how debate works: if you make an assertion then you had best support it. As the “negative” in the debate I *could* bother to refute you with citation, but YOU are the one making the assertion in the first place so I don’t really need to unless you come close to actually making a worthwhile assertion.

    If you post “Rockefeller Center is full of pink elephants right now!” then it’s up to YOU to post a picture of the elephants. It’s not really incumbent upon me to find a live webcam on Rockefeller Center and post a screencap demonstrating that you’re wrong. I could, but why should I?

  52. Bob, I fully understand how debate works, but I don’t believe you do. You made claims in your reply to me that remain unsupported by citations while demanding proof of my statement.

    It is a well documented fact that the Internet in (we’ll take the USA as an example) has a limited amount of bandwidth – this does not go up by itself, though it can go down if the backbone providers’ servers go down or if the physical cables are damaged. It is also well documented that a rather large group of Internet engineers have been warning that at the current rates of growth of Internet subscribers, there will be rolling Internet brown outs and possibly even black outs if we do not increase our infrastructure (meaning more cables, more satellites, and so on), sometime during this decade.

    I assume you know how to use Google, so I will let YOU find the articles as I have neither the time nor inclination to educate you. Once you read the articles you find, you can tell me how a limited resource (bandwidth) automagically increases over time without investment.

  53. Dave K,

    Yes, IPv6 has enough addresses to give everyone a unique address. The problem is that this does not mean that everyone could use the Internet at the same time. In my posts above, I already noted that bandwidth is a limited resource and that we already have demand growing at a rate that will cause necessary limitations of service if we, and other nations of the world, don’t invest in more infrastructure now rather than later. This is well documented.

    To close with an answer to the original post of this article, I believe that Internet access can only become a basic human right if several changes occur. One is that access would have to be without cost (not likely in the near future). Another is that there would have to be the infrastructure (bandwidth) for ALL people on the Earth to use it at one time with no brown outs or black outs. It is possible in the future, though – I guess I’m just an optimist.

  54. Is internet access a human right? Is being able to answer any question at several touches of a button a human right? Is being connected to the mass human consciousness as it is expressed in cyberspace a human right?
    Regardless of what content you wish to look at, or are allowed to look at, it seems to me that access certainly should be a human right. One can always choose not to use it.
    If others are restricting your access via some means, whether that means they are censoring which pages you can see, or they have removed your computer or your modem or your cable or whatever other physical means you use to access the internet, is that violating your human rights?
    It feels to me like it is. I am an adult, if I pay for the content I use, why should I not have full access to whatever I want to look at? Why should anyone else be able to stop me?

  55. Using Internet is definitely a human right of every human being. As without using Internet you can not exercise democracy, your right to express, and to protect your right properly. amnesty international an huge organization working for human rights also depend highly on Internet. So Internet use is a obvious part of human rights. Its obvious for exercising your rights properly.

  56. To Proteeti Masud and others:

    In order for Internet access to be a "basic human right", it would have to be freely available to ALL people at ALL times. There are places in the world with very limited or no Internet infrastructure, and the current bandwidth of the existing infrastructure would choke the Internet when 6-7 billion or so people try to access their "right". As I have stated, I think it would be possible to make the Internet free in the future, but many substantive changes would have to be made to Governments and how they interact with the technology, and the idea of "Corporate ownership" of the Internet would have to be defeated, in favor of a new idea – such as the Internet being owned equally by all of humanity.

    I view "basic human rights", as those rights that are possible to provide to those who do not currently enjoy them, such as food, clothing, shelter, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of speech, and the like. Adding access to the Internet to that list would currently be like adding the right to own and operate a car to the list. Cars cost money to purchase and operate, and so does Internet access.

  57. Hey Steve,

    Are you saying that you've been alive since before there were governments? If so, I want your secret, since that is a very long time. I've read rhetoric like yours before, and I always have one reply.

    You enjoy infinite rights, sure. That is until some entity such as a Government or a corporate private army decides you don't – then you have two choices. A. Argue with the bullets they are shooting at you, or B. run.

    Seriously, those more powerful than you decide which of your rights they will recognize, which ones they will imprison you for, and which ones they'll kill you for. Is this 'right'? No, but it is the way things work in this world.

  58. Internet access is not in any way a basic human right. It is a privilege that one must not abuse. When I think about what is a basic human right what comes to mind is clean water, clean air, food, healthcare, education

  59. Using Internet is definitely a human right of every human being. As without using Internet you can not exercise democracy, your right to express, and to protect your right properly. amnesty international an huge organization working for human rights also depend highly on Internet. So Internet use is a obvious part of human rights. Its obvious for exercising your rights properly.

  60. The story and this thread is based upon the words of Vinton Cerf. Vinton Cerf was a freeking program manager. Can someone please tell me something that a freeking program manager did to improve a project? In 35 years in aerospace, I never saw a PM do anything constructive. All they ever cared about was status of the engineers who built the schedule in the first place and whether the engineers were spending money at the right rate. In general, they operated under the philosophy that if you get nine women pregnant you can have a baby in a month. Some father he was.

  61. To Proteeti Masud and others:

    In order for Internet access to be a “basic human right”, it would have to be freely available to ALL people at ALL times. There are places in the world with very limited or no Internet infrastructure, and the current bandwidth of the existing infrastructure would choke the Internet when 6-7 billion or so people try to access their “right”. As I have stated, I think it would be possible to make the Internet free in the future, but many substantive changes would have to be made to Governments and how they interact with the technology, and the idea of “Corporate ownership” of the Internet would have to be defeated, in favor of a new idea – such as the Internet being owned equally by all of humanity.

    I view “basic human rights”, as those rights that are possible to provide to those who do not currently enjoy them, such as food, clothing, shelter, freedom of assembly and association, freedom of speech, and the like. Adding access to the Internet to that list would currently be like adding the right to own and operate a car to the list. Cars cost money to purchase and operate, and so does Internet access.

  62. Hey Steve,

    Are you saying that you’ve been alive since before there were governments? If so, I want your secret, since that is a very long time. I’ve read rhetoric like yours before, and I always have one reply.

    You enjoy infinite rights, sure. That is until some entity such as a Government or a corporate private army decides you don’t – then you have two choices. A. Argue with the bullets they are shooting at you, or B. run.

    Seriously, those more powerful than you decide which of your rights they will recognize, which ones they will imprison you for, and which ones they’ll kill you for. Is this ‘right’? No, but it is the way things work in this world.

  63. Internet access is not in any way a basic human right. It is a privilege that one must not abuse. When I think about what is a basic human right what comes to mind is clean water, clean air, food, healthcare, education

  64. The story and this thread is based upon the words of Vinton Cerf. Vinton Cerf was a freeking program manager. Can someone please tell me something that a freeking program manager did to improve a project? In 35 years in aerospace, I never saw a PM do anything constructive. All they ever cared about was status of the engineers who built the schedule in the first place and whether the engineers were spending money at the right rate. In general, they operated under the philosophy that if you get nine women pregnant you can have a baby in a month. Some father he was.

  65. Do you have the right to legally force someone to provide you with a service? If so, can the government require them to provide it to you free-of-charge, and at their own expense?

    The right to say whatever you want to whoever you want on a cellphone is not the same has having the right to own a cellphone—much less the right to use mine whenever you want.

  66. Internet access is certainly not a right, but should be accessible to as many people as possible. If you can't afford to pay for it you don't get it. Simple business practice.

  67. Do you have the right to legally force someone to provide you with a service? If so, can the government require them to provide it to you free-of-charge, and at their own expense?

    The right to say whatever you want to whoever you want on a cellphone is not the same has having the right to own a cellphone—much less the right to use mine whenever you want.

  68. Internet access is certainly not a right, but should be accessible to as many people as possible. If you can’t afford to pay for it you don’t get it. Simple business practice.

  69. I read all your article and some comments really quickly. Sorry if I wasn't allowed by any standards, but it doesn't matter cause I forgot it already.

  70. I read all your article and some comments really quickly. Sorry if I wasn’t allowed by any standards, but it doesn’t matter cause I forgot it already.

  71. I don't about how the people around the world assume freedom of opinion, but I feel that it involves in expressing your opinion without getting scared or ashamed. Suppressing opinions is not a good thing as it means you are taking away his or her existence of life. You cannot live in a world where they supress you and make you a slave.