London, November 11 (IANS) With political engagement and debates increasingly taking place online, free internet access must be considered as a human right, as people unable to get online -- particularly in the developing countries -- lack meaningful ways to influence the global players shaping their everyday lives, researchers have stressed.
Basic freedoms that many take for granted including free expression, freedom of information and freedom of assembly are undermined if some citizens have access to Internet and others do not, said the team from University of Birmingham.
Kerala, for instance, has declared universal Internet access a human right and aims to provide it for its 3.5 crore people by the end of this year.
"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," commented Dr Merten Reglitz, Lecturer in Global Ethics at the University of Birmingham.
Internet could be a key way of protecting other basic human rights such as life, liberty and freedom from torture -- a means of enabling billions of people to lead "minimally decent lives", said the study published in the Journal of Applied Philosophy.
"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," lamented Reglitz.
Exercising free speech and obtaining information is now heavily dependent on having Internet access.
Much of today's political debate took place online and politically relevant information is shared on the Internet -- meaning the relative value these freedoms held for people 'offline' had decreased.
The study cited several examples of Internet engagement that helped hold government and institutions to account like the 'Arab Spring' and #MeToo campaign.
The European Union recently launched the "WiFi4EU" initiative to provide 'every European village and city with free wireless Internet access around main centres of public life by 2020.
The UN's International Telecommunication Union estimated that by the end of 2018, 51 per cent of the world's population of 7 billion people had access to the Internet.
"Universal Internet access need not cost the earth -- accessing politically important opportunities such as blogging, obtaining information, joining virtual groups, or sending and receiving emails does not require the latest information technology," said Reglitz.
Currently, some 2.3 billion people live without affordable Internet access.
"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."
The human right to Internet access was similar to the global right to health, which cannot require globally the highest possible medical treatment, as many states are too poor to provide such services and thus would face impossible demands.
Instead, poor states are called upon to provide basic medical services and work toward providing higher quality health care delivery.
Similarly, such states should initially offer locations with public Internet access and develop IT infrastructure that increases access, the study noted.