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Affordable and reliable internet access has become a vital means to exercise fundamental human rights and to support economic, social and human development. As observed by the former UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, “the internet is one of the most powerful instruments of the 21st century for increasing transparency in the conduct of the powerful, access to information, and for facilitating active citizen participation in building democratic societies.”
However, as the internet becomes more ubiquitous, less is being heard from those who are unconnected – the less wealthy and more marginalised – who are unable to exercise their rights on the same footing as those who are connected. This includes access to basic services from governments and businesses which now use the internet as a platform for day-to-day transactions. Those who do not have access are doubly excluded: excluded from the “new” world of information and communications that the internet delivers, and also excluded from the “old” analogue world they used to have access to – even if imperfectly – because so many of those services and opportunities are increasingly only available online.
Connecting the unconnected will therefore require a major and concerted effort to address a variety of factors which are highlighted below. In this respect, APC observes that equal efforts are necessary, not only to connect more people, but also to move the billions who are “barely connected” into a fully pervasive and affordable connectivity environment.