In 2016, the United Nations declared that internet access is a basic human right. While governments are not required to provide internet access, they are not allowed to block it under this ruling. Unfortunately, the UN has done nothing to enforce this ruling, as UN resolutions are generally considered non-binding guidelines and unenforceable.
As President Barack Obama said in 2015, “today, high speed broadband is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.” More and more, our lives are lived online. Access to online bills, online shopping, online learning, and online communication have changed the face of society irrevocably. And yet, as of 2017, only 53% of households worldwide have access to the internet. In Africa that number drops to 18%. This travesty is causing what has become known as the digital divide, which ensuring that the poor stay poor while the rich get richer, even in prosperous nations like America.
This isn’t about checking Facebook (although that has become a key component of networking) – 84% of American business surveyed say that digital adoption is key to running a competitive business, and 70% of American teachers give out homework that requires internet access. Unable to get good grades in school, unable to learn new skills for jobs in an increasingly tech-heavy economy, more than 25% of the American population is hobbled by not having access to broadband internet.
Experts predict that universal internet access won’t be possible until at least 2050, but some companies such as Amazon and Starlink hope to make it happen sooner than that, using a worldwide network of satellites. Starlinks first launch of such satellites is scheduled for this very year, in June 2019, with completion hoped for by 2030. Whether this is a realistic goal or not remain to be seen – as is whether the price for this internet access is low enough to make a difference to those who need it most.
In the future, it’s not unreasonable to think that going without internet access would seem like going without electricity or running water; not enough to kill you, but enough to make your life really, really unpleasant. Indeed, for many of us it already is. The internet has become a community that welcomes everyone willing to participate, a touchstone of free speech and international discourse, a library of accumulated knowledge greater than anything our world has ever seen, a source of livelihoods and friendships. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the internet and all it has to offer – and to dedicate ourselves to letting everyone reap the benefits.