Broadband is Basic Human Right

The United Nations have declared Internet access a human right. It focuses on the Internet as a tool for civic engagement…

The Special Rapporteur believes that the Internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies. Indeed, the recent wave of demonstrations in countries across the Middle East and North African region has shown the key role that the Internet can play in mobilizing the population to call for justice, equality, accountability and better respect for human rights. As such, facilitating access to the Internet for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible, should be a priority for all States.

There were a couple of themes in the report; some more pertinent today to a Minnesota audience than others but all were important.


The report maintains that censorship is wrong – except in special cases (such as child pornography, defamation). In principle I think most readers will agree to that tenet. And while censorship in St Paul may not be as blatant at that in Syria I think those of us in St Paul should be concerned about the people Syria and should be aware of the potential for the same tools to e used for censorship closer to home.

There is a call back to think of providers as common carries in terms of liability for content…

Holding intermediaries liable for the content disseminated or created by their users severely undermines the enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, because it leads to self-protective and over-broad private censorship, often without transparency and the due process of the law.

Similarly, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of the United States of America also provides safe harbour for intermediaries, provided that they take down the content in question promptly after notification.

The Special Rapporteur believes that censorship measures should never be delegated to a private entity, and that no one should be held liable for content on the Internet of which they are not the author.


The right to privacy is essential for individuals to express themselves freely.

The Special Rapporteur is deeply concerned by actions taken by States against individuals communicating via the Internet, frequently justified broadly as being necessary to protect national security or to combat terrorism. While such ends can be legitimate under international human rights law, surveillance often takes place for political, rather than security reasons in an arbitrary and covert manner.

Privacy is something brought up in both the National Broadband Plan and the Minnesota Ultra High Speed Broadband Task Force report – but I don’t know if it gets enough attention – nor do I know if this is the place to approach it but I wanted to flag it. In the US I think our concern is with maintaining our privacy from government, individuals and private entities.

Access to Infrastructure

While the focus of the report in not necessarily the US, in fact the US is held up as a “have” country, the problems that we have with ubiquity in the US are echoed in the report…

In addition, people in rural areas are often confronted with obstacles to Internet access, such as lack of technological availability, slower Internet connection, and/or higher costs. Furthermore, even where Internet connection is available, disadvantaged groups, such as persons with disabilities and persons belonging to minority groups, often face barriers to accessing the Internet in a way that is meaningful, relevant and useful to them in their daily lives.

And solutions such as public-private partnerships are mentioned…

States should adopt effective and concrete policies and strategies – developed in consultation with individuals from all segments of society, including the private sector as well as relevant Government ministries – to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide, Policy, Research, Rural by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (, hosts a radio show on MN music (, supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota ( and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

2 thoughts on “Broadband is Basic Human Right

  1. Hi Ann: This is a really interesting post. I loved how you commented on the relevancy to St. Paul compared to Syria. I’m courous about the status and standing of the “Special Rapporteur” who is cited as the author. Does s/he really speak for the UN? or is this a report TO the UN that members will be called upon to discuss and vote on?? Thanks. Bernadine

  2. Bernadine,

    That’s a great question. Here’s what I was able to find on the UN site:

    A Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. This position is honorary and the expert is not United Nations staff nor paid for his/her work. The Special Rapporteurs are part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.

    The Special Rapporteur here was Mr. Frank La Rue

    You can learn more about the position here:

    And about Mr. La Rue here:

    He presented his paper earlier this month and the UN released it but it doesn’t sound as if they have voted on or somehow ratified the report

    Thx! Ann

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