How important is it to you to have easy access to the Internet?
Many of us take easy access for granted. But research has shown that only 59% of Canada’s lowest income households have home internet access (CRTC, 2013).
For those who face the dilemma of whether to feed the kids or pay the rent, the additional issue of paying for the internet is now added to this unsolvable equation.
Recently the Clinic engaged researcher Charis Jung from Pro Bono Canada to look at the idea of access to the Internet as a Basic Human Right. Ms. Jung looked at what is happening in various jurisdictions and what legal experts have to say on the matter.
For example, the UN has declared that online freedom is a human right that must be protected. Also, several countries (Costa Rica, Estonia, and Finland, to name a few) have established internet access as a fundamental right in law.
In Canada, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has declared that high-speed internet is a basic service. It is “necessary to the quality of life” and is a “vital” and “basic telecommunications service” that all Canadians are entitled to receive. Significant money has been recommended to help achieve these goals.
But the issue of a right to access is not being addressed by decision makers in Canada. Generally speaking, experts are divided.
Perhaps the right to access can be assumed under other basic human rights like the right to assembly or the right to free expression. Or, maybe, the declaration of the internet as an essential service, as the CRTC has done, will achieve the same result.
Lethbridge stands out as a community that has thought and acted on this issue.
This Alberta city of 98,000 people has embraced the opportunities and challenges created by information technologies
They’ve recognized that some residents and businesses don’t have access to fast and reliable internet services. Or they may reside in weak cellular coverage areas and in locations where publicly available WiFi is desired but not available.
The city has set up a connectivity working group made up of nine different municipal departments. The group works with various carriers to streamline processes to improve service and “develop a broadband and Wifi strategy for the city.”
Lethbridge believes that their community should be one where “everyone has the ability to access the internet regardless of age, race, gender, or socio-economic group.”
Lethbridge’s response seems like something all communities should aspire to.
How about Hamilton?
Bob Wood is a Community Worker at the Hamilton Community Legal Clinic. More information on this issue can be found at www.hamiltonjustice.ca