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Right to Access the Internet: Upholding a Human Right

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

RightsCon, Manila, Philippines

Manila, Philippines—DEF team member, Ms. Ritu Srivastava, participated in the interactive session on Right to Access the Internet: Upholding a Human Right at the RightsCon conference in Manila, Philippines. The interactive session explored interlinkages between access to internet as a basic human rights in Asia—particularly Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Philippines—and how communities are using the internet to protect and defend human rights.

In particular, the session explored:

Access to the internet as a multi-faceted concept including infrastructure, regulatory policy, language and content diversity The right to information, freedom of expression and the links to internet democracy and human rights Freedom of expression through internet and content control including privacy, cybercrime law and surveillance Bring out solution for new technologies & application for human rights standards to the fast-changing forms of connectivity


The UN has declared internet access to be a basic human right and is also included in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the UN Special Rapporteur has stated, the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress, ensuring universal access to the Internet should be a priority for all States.

Indeed, in some countries, particularly in developed regions, the internet is already deeply woven into the economic and social fabric of the society. However, the benefits of the Internet must be shared by all the world’s citizens. In India, the realities are different in urban and rural India, in terms of how internet is accessed and its purposes.

However, the Internet can only continue to drive democracy and economic development if freedom of expression and the freedom to receive and access information are guaranteed. Without this, internet access as a human right is illusory at best.

Internet Access in Indonesia

Mr. Johar Rangkut mentioned how the Indonesian government did not understand what internet was in 1994 which led to the setting up of one single-point exchange. This is where multiple points and servers were connected to just one exchange. So if that one exchange was shut down or faced any challenges—all the other points were also shut down. It has both positives and negatives.

One example of connecting to the internet in 1994: Students used the internet to topple the government in 1994.

Other benefits include uploading of local content which is free.

For mass surveillance purposes, the government approached Johar and his team at Tukang Internet to obtain user data and traffic. Every time the government approached Johar, he was increasing his capacity. For example, if the government came to collect 16GB of data, Johar would have 32GB of data—which would force the government to increase its capacity—but every time the capacity increased, so did the capacity of Tukang Internet.

By this method, they are complying with the government to access data, but also protecting user privacy.

Internet Access in India

Ms. Ritu Srivastava, Program Manager at DEF said that the concept of internet as a free service is still open and considered in India. For example, DEF aims and works towards providing last mile connectivity. However, the challenge is lack of government support, with respect to, partnering and supporting projects done by communities.

70 percent of India is not connected and apart from regulatory or policy challenges, communities are often prevented access based social and cultural issues, norms and traditions, religious beliefs, and cost issues.

However, on the positive side, e-commerce is increasing as in the case of Chanderiyaan in Madhya Pradesh where DEF operates a center. The weavers and treaders are now able to earn increased revenues because of these activities.

So what has changed since this program has been in effect for more than 3 years now. For example, 3 years after being connected to the Internet, the Chanderi weaver are now able to see increased revenues for their products with simplicity. They are able to provide quality customer satisfaction. Communities are now better able to access education and health service due to physical infrastructure issues, but now, videoconferencing for health and education is a normal aspect of daily life. The community is trained to build the network.


The positive outcome of the program is that local government and banks want to also connect to the network. So DEF charges a fee to offer those services to the local stakeholders so that sustainability is built in to the project from the very beginning.

Internet Access in Pakistan

In the case of Pakistan, Ms. Sadaf Baig, Bytes For All, said that Pakistan is now 30 percent equipped with internet access and 70 percent mobile penetration. 3G and 4G is on the rise. However, price remains an issue because internet access is not affordable to all in rural communities and others in urban communities –like in Baluchistan Northern Region and where conflicts are persistent—and in conflict zones and areas where national security is an utmost important issue.

Political will is changing slowly, but, content is being threatened because of constant surveillance and monitoring. Youtube is banned for 2 years and changes in Twitter and Facebook.

There are two instances one can recall where communications was banned in Islamabad: One, during the Islamabad Day Parade, communications was switched off so that people cannot send SMSs and other communications. Secondly, SMS were banned because of love affairs which is considered a taboo or a social issue.

Internet Access in Philippines

In Philippines, government has no knowledge about ICT and internet. Telecoms own the gateway facilities and various political and national interests are at stake on this subject. The second largest carrier in Philippines, Globe Telecom, introduced SMS and mobile penetration. SMS is not free in this country.

A positive step in ensuring internet access is that government is trying to promote access through a free WiFi project in underserved areas. 37 percent of the people have access to internet. And there are more FB users than internet users. However, the quality of service is the poorest.

So where are internet rights curbed? Mobile services in the country, highly dominated by Christians, lost their connectivity because of the pope

Overall observations

The panel made overall comments and observed issues around the following topics:

Making available online content in local languages Pricing of the internet and affordable access Ratings and net neutrality Private sector involvement: For example, private sector in Indonesia has the money to contribute, however, the blockage is the government Subsidization


Rules apply equitably, both online and offline, for everyone including the government Internet is a public good and should be managed, operated by people not just the government(s). Access needs to be scaled-up but when you apply the Do-It-Your-Own, government will realize
Areas of work