Ok, so I stole the title from an unrelated blog I read the other day; I thought it was rather funny, as well as apt for what I want to discuss.
Over the last two decades the world has been gripped by the internet revolution. I would argue it’s become more disruptive in international development than the combustion engine, as in such a short period of time, at ever increasing pace, it’s changing the way we live , work and play - from shopping with Tesco’s to the Arab Spring - the internet is at the heart of the world we live in.
Such is the importance of the internet to everything we do, that World governments are requesting for broadband to become a Human Right.
Finland has passed legislation stating that 1Mb/s broadband is a right for all their citizens and South Korea have made it a legal requirement that any residential property must have internet access. I feel this goes further than our own governments pledge for minimum access targets, but the question remains - should broadband be a right?
When I was a child our local library bought their first public computer, allowing local residents to come in and use the internet free of charge. These local services gave the entire community access, and whilst that solitary PC might be a bit more in demand now than it was in the early 1990’s, it fitted the needs of the community at the time.
How far should the government go though? Clearly we are living in an age where internet access is taken more seriously by Government than ever before (as illustrated by the Digital Britain report and subsequent BDUK funding for rural broadband) be if we established internet access as a constitutional right - what would that mean in actuality?
Would BT be required to unilaterally provide free broadband access to all residential properties? Who would be accountable for those properties only able to achieve 0.5Mb/s when they are throttled at peak times? Does a mass service outage, such as the fire in the Paddington exchange in 2010, actually constitute an infringement on the human rights of Londoners? Perhaps all those people living in broadband not-spots could sue the government for years of deprivation. Maybe I digress!
It would seem to me that the most successful projects for bringing broadband to UK not-spots, are those where small entrepreneurial companies (with public funding) have managed to deploy FTTC/P. These moves are really positive to the improvement of our broadband landscape and make BT’s practice of upgrading exchanges where there are already five or six LLU providers, while neglecting the roll out of super fast, or even moderately fast services to the rural communities, look rather ridiculous.
It is my opinion, the internet is fundamental to commerce and has become an integral part of our social environment. Encouraging competition and innovation, with the kind of Government backing we are currently witnessing through the BDUK, remains the best method of improving UK connectivity and should continue if we are to avoid propping up an old privatised BT - which maintains a monopoly over most of country.
So to answer the question, “Should broadband be a right?”. My answer is no. Should our government do more to improve access to the internet? Absolutely!