Everyone should be entitled to free internet access, researchers argue

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Lack of internet access can affect how consumers connect with the world around them

While many consumers don’t think twice about connecting to a wireless network, whether it’s in a coffee shop or on an airplane, a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Birmingham could have many rethinking the availability of WiFi connections. 

The researchers say that lack of internet access can affect how consumers’ connect and interact with each other, and it also affects their place in the world at-large. Because of this, the researchers argue that free internet access should be acknowledged as a basic human right. 

“Internet access is no luxury, but instead a moral human right and everyone should have unmonitored and uncensored access to this global medium -- provided free of charge for those unable to afford it,” said researcher Dr. Merten Reglitz. “Without such access, many people lack a meaningful way to influence and hold accountable supranational rule-makers and institutions. These individuals simply don’t have a say in the making of the rules they must obey and which shape their life chances.” 

The role the internet plays

At the heart of the researchers’ study is the role that the internet plays in political movements. The team explored how the technology enables people to stay updated and have their voices and opinions be heard when it counts. 

Perhaps the biggest difficulty is the wide scope of internet access that would be necessary, as many lower-income countries and rural areas of the United States remain without connectivity. 

However, to help bypass this issue, Dr. Reglitz pointed to several government entities that have made it possible to increase the scope of internet access, including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the European Union’s efforts, known globally as WiFi4EU. In both instances, the government is working to expand who gets internet access by making WiFi available in public places in lower-income areas and populated city centers. 

Without access to the internet, Dr. Reglitz warns that huge populations will stay in the dark when it comes to huge political movements, and they’ll also be unable to share their own positions because of it. 

Cost often comes up as a major concern, and the researchers explained that the financial aspect shouldn’t be burdensome, as there are resources already in place that would aid in moving this endeavor further. 

Lower-income areas wouldn’t be required to go full speed ahead on this project. Instead, the researchers say the technology would progress as the means become possible. Having WiFi access in public areas is a starting point that would benefit countless consumers, as it would allow them to have more freedom, more knowledge, and more opportunities for their futures. 

“Universal internet access need not cost the earth -- access politically important opportunities such as blogging, obtaining information, joining virtual groups, or sending and receiving emails does not require the latest information technology,” said D. Reglitz. “Web-capable phones allow people to access these services and public internet provision, such as public libraries, can help get people online where individual domestic access is initially too expensive.”

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