During December of 2003, the United Nations, along with governments, civil society organizations and some businesses held a summit which, in summary, resolved that access to the Internet is a basic human right. Specifically, they concluded and stated:

"We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers."

It is highly probable that they meant well, but it is ironic that some governments participated in this resolution and yet, especially in Africa, they continue to violate this human right with regular Internet restrictions and shutdowns. However, I digress, that is not the point I wanted to make. I wanted to highlight that Internet access is very important in the age we live in and some reports have also drawn a parallel between countries that have affordable and widespread Internet access for citizens and economic growth.

Currently, to the best of my knowledge, the following are the models that Internet connectivity is provisioned to citizens: private telecommunications companies, community based Internet Service Providers (who still need private telecommunications companies), and local government (i.e. municipalities, but they also still run this on private telecommunications companies infrastructure. The rest seem to be a hybrid of what I’ve mentioned, and as you can see, the key denominator is that private telecommunications companies still play a key role in Internet connectivity.

However, as we’ve witnessed in Africa, the system is such that telecommunications companies hardly ever put up any resistance when governments order them to restrict or shutdown Internet services. It all has to do with the dynamics around how governments are responsible for issuing telecommunications licenses to private companies, and as such, companies find themselves in a catch 22 situation where not fulfilling the directive, and fighting it in court, could later result in them losing their license.

Given how important the Internet has become in our lives, perhaps we need to start seriously thinking about how Internet services are provisioned in each country. The current power and legal dynamics between telecommunications companies and governments don’t seem to be conducive to a free Internet.

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