Internet Access Should be Free
90% of the United States’ adult population uses the internet. Although a clear majority of the US can access the internet, we are also home to a large digital divide. A digital divide means certain population groups do not have equal access to the internet. The consequences of this divide become more dire when we look at the number of resources that have moved online due to COVID-19. While some consider the internet a luxury, a lack of internet today will limit an individual’s opportunities in employment, government services, healthcare, and education. Because so many essentials are online, it’s time to reflect on the internet’s commercialized position. 19% of Americans without internet access said that they were prevented by the cost of internet service. Although some claim that universal internet access would stifle innovation, the competition for government contracts makes up for this. Because COVID-19 has redefined the internet as an essential utility, internet access is a human right and the United States should provide all citizens with internet access.
Internet Access and COVID-19
The coronavirus continues to prevail in the United States, with over 4.5 million confirmed cases. Individuals are attending doctor’s visits over Zoom, ordering essential household products on Amazon, and socializing during FaceTimes with friends. The most effective way to prevent yourself from becoming infected by COVID-19 is to social distance—and people with stable internet access have the ability to do so. However, those without internet access must attend work in-person, visit stores for household goods and groceries, and attend gatherings to visit friends. But a lack of internet access does not only affect adults-as the US grapples with the challenges of returning to school, many US colleges have moved their fall semesters online. Because as many as 2.3 million students across US public school districts cannot access the internet, schools are being pushed to open at a quicker-than-safe rate. Our digital disparity puts those without internet access in danger because they are unable to obtain essential resources from home. COVID-19 has made it clear that the internet is necessary for our safety, so it should be provided to everybody.
Is the Internet a Human Right?
Article 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.” This document does not declare that all humans should be guaranteed free access to the internet, just the right to use it. But how can one access the internet when they are barely making enough money to buy food? Right now, the internet is a luxury. Corporations aim to sell internet access for the highest price possible in order to make a profit. The internet may be a “product,” but digital disparities cause a sharp divide in students’ achievements and academic success. 20% of rural students in the US do not have broadband internet at home. 43% of children in low-income households have to do their homework on a cellphone. No “luxury” product should directly impact a child’s opportunity for success. Kerala, an Indian state, plans to provide universal internet access to its 35 million residents, declaring universal access a human right. The United States should follow suit and provide its citizens with universal internet access to ensure its citizens’ well-being and success.
A common counterargument for implementing free public internet access is a lack of technical progress. Because the internet would be universally provided, internet corporations would no longer fight for consumers through technological progress. However, many internet service providers will fight for the privilege to provide internet to the American people, so technological competition will be stiff. Private entities will continue to work towards better internet services for the public in competition to receive government contracts for internet services. Progress will continue because companies will not hold a monopoly over public internet access-instead, there will be constant competition for the right to provide it.
Internet access has morphed into an essential utility of the modern age, but it is still treated as a luxury good. Prior to COVID-19, a lack of internet access would prevent children from succeeding in school, or adults from accessing important job opportunities. In the age of the coronavirus, however, those without internet are forced to put themselves through unnecessary risks in order to access necessities. Companies should not sell internet access in search of making a profit-instead, the federal government must provide all citizens with universal internet access. Today, internet access is a human right and we have the ability (and responsibility) to make it a reality in the US.