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24th December – Right to internet

Just over a decade ago, the clamour for ‘right to internet’ began.

The journey –

  • Finland went a step further by famously legislating a right to broadband which meant a more reasonable universal service obligation requiring all telecommunication companies to provide all residents with a line of at least 1Mbps.
  • In 2017, the Kerala government announced that internet access was a basic right and, this year, announced that it will spend ₹1,548 crore to build a fibre optic network to provide internet access to every household in the state.
  • Recently, New Delhi became the latest city government to offer “free” Wi-Fi to its residents.

What is ‘right to internet’?

It does not essentially mean ‘free internet access’ but ‘subsidised internet connections’.

Why ‘free internet access’ is problematic?

  • First, they violate contracts and represent unjustified government intervention in competitive markets. These free Wi-Fi services will unfairly undercut commercial Wi-Fi and 4G mobile services.
  • Secondly, free internet access cannot be a fundamental right, any more than food or education. These are no doubt basic human needs but they are not fundamental rights yet.

What ‘right to internet’ should mean?

  • It should actually mean that the free citizens of our state should be protected from arbitrary disconnections by the state, especially because they contribute to high economic costs in terms of gross domestic product.
  • Apart from the economic costs lie the argument of individual liberty. While the state has its authority to maintain public order, instruments that abridge civil liberties must be used sparingly and it should not become the norm to tackle all public order issues.
  • In a more rigorous redefinition of the right to internet access, in 2016, the United Nations amended the definition of freedom of expression in its Universal Declaration of Human Rights to include the freedom to “impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”.

Conclusion –

So, do Indians need a new right to the internet? No, because we already have it. It is implicit in our fundamental rights. What we need are better legal procedures that ensure that the bar for denial of access is much higher and much better protected.

SourceLivemint

QUESTIONExperts have opined that since India is making a transition through the digital age, we should declare ‘right to internet’ as a fundamental right. Examine the pros and cons of such a declaration.

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