[EDITORIAL] Reduced Cost Of Internet Is Fundamental Right

The federal government once vowed to cut the cost of data and internet services by 50 per before the end of 2025. Four years to the reference year, data cost is still on the high side with no signs of moderating. We believe this promise can only be achieved when access to the Internet is approached as a fundamental human right.

Why the Internet should be seen as a fundamental right is simply because it is now seen as the biggest source of empowerment; literally putting all of the word’s learning in front of citizens so that they may consume as staple the frontiers of knowledge in every conceivable field.

In a 2016 resolution, the United Nations reaffirmed that “the same rights people have offline must also be protected online.” The global body thus elevated access to the internet as a basic human right. Since then, several countries have enacted legislation in tandem to the resolution. Notable in this respect are the decisions of Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece and Spain. A Supreme Court Judgement in Costa Rica held that “access to these technologies becomes a basic tool to facilitate the exercise of fundamental rights …in particular, the right of access to the Internet or World Wide Web.” Ten years before this historical judgement, in 2000, the Estonian Parliament had launched a massive program to expand access to the countryside. The Internet, the government argues, is essential for life in the 21st century.

At about the time the Costa Rica judgement was made, every person in Finland was to have access to a one-megabit per second broadband connection, and by 2015, access to a 100 Mbit/s connection. Not to be outdone by these small countries, the Constitutional Council, France’s highest court in June 2009, ‘declared access to the Internet to be a basic human right in a strongly-worded decision that struck down portions of the HADOPI law, a law that would have tracked abusers and without judicial review automatically cut off network access to those who continued to download illicit material after two warnings’.

Article 5A of the Constitution of Greece states that all persons has a right to participate in the Information Society and that the state has an obligation to facilitate the production, exchange, diffusion, and access to electronically transmitted information. Starting in 2011, Telefónica, the former state monopoly that holds the country’s “universal service” contract, has to guarantee to offer “reasonably” priced broadband of at least one megabit per second throughout Spain.

Nigeria should follow in this trajectory and speed up access;  a practical way of doing that, is to cut down access cost. Despite the level of penetration, internet services are still too slow and too expensive, effectively depriving citizens of the right to access. With  an average of over 7 hours (7:18) to download an HD movie of 5GB,  Nigeria is ranked 176th out of 207 leading telecoms country surveyed by Open Signal, an internet research company. The reason: “less robust broadband infrastructure.

Less robust broadband infrastructure also means very expensive internet, one of the most expensive on the continent. According to a report by Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), only five African countries have ‘affordable internet’ and Nigeria is not one of them. A Quartz report says that prices in Nigeria need to drop by 97% to become affordable for many of the country’s 180 million people, according to Quartz.

Slow internet and high access cost must be tamed before the economy can leapfrog leading economies to figure among the top twenty in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking in line with government aspirations. Respect for human rights is the lever to getting a handle on that aspiration

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