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Access to the Internet as a Human Right: COVID-19 and Education

November 14, 2020
Families are being forced to choose between paying for rent, food, medicine, and internet as current restrictions imposed by governments restrict people's movement, access to buildings, schools, and offices. As the internet becomes essential to communicate with family members, work from home, stay informed, and attend school, more people need access to, and/or affordable access to the internet.

Currently, there are no hard laws that declare internet access a human right, which means that there are no penalties for nations that do not adhere to providing internet or affordable internet to everyone. The resolution that was passed in 2016 by the United Nations recognizes “the global and open nature of the Internet as a driving force in accelerating progress towards development in its various forms, including in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals” and affirms that quality education is dependent on the access of information on the internet. Although, Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights touches upon the importance of internet access in aiding development, it focuses more on stopping governments from restricting access rather than providing a plan to provide access to the internet.

As libraries and schools shut down due to government restrictions during COVID-19, many students lack access to safe and reliable internet. Students' inability to attend school creates an education system codependent on technology and a division between those who have access to education and those who do not have the necessary digital tools. This division is creating an unequal system where the elite thrive, and education is deemed a luxury.

As a result, local and grassroots organizations have demanded that internet access be a human right provided by the government as, without it, other human rights such as the right to basic education cannot be adequately realized. This article called "Universal internet access unlikely until at least 2050, experts say" by The Guardian highlights an important point as it states that “ if people cannot read and write, if they don’t have the skills, then even when the internet is affordable, they are not going to benefit from it”. Therefore, once again discussing the need to create an infrastructure that provides free or affordable internet, yet not providing steps on how to create this infrastructure.

The 17th session of the United Nations General Assembly of the Human Rights Council argued that digital divides also exist along wealth, gender, geographical and social lines within States and that persons with disabilities and persons belonging to minority groups often face barriers to accessing the internet in a way that is meaningful, relevant and useful to them in their daily lives. However, the meeting did not mention a bounding policy or a clear idea of how states should respond to these statistics. Since nation-states are not bound to provide internet access for all, citizens themselves and local, as well as grassroots organizations, have taken it upon themselves to provide aid to communities and families that do not have access to the internet or computers. Although states play a crucial role in providing affordable internet, and or internet networks, it is essential to acknowledge the role of local organizations in providing aid that helps meet the needs of the community.

The YouthAble Mobile App will act as an information hub that will aid the Ottawa community to provide virtual services as a response to COVID-19. As the internet is one of the main factors in accessing and attending these virtual sessions, it is essential that we partner up with organizations to provide affordable internet access.

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