Is Broadband A Human Right?

  • Your right to broadband access as a consumer.
  • How does Australia stack up against the rest of the world.
  • Where is broadband headed in the 21st Century.


As a teen, my father would pull the power out of the modem at 9pm, depriving me of my ever so necessary ADSL1 connection to avoid late nights watching cats fall into swimming pools.  I would berate him, as precocious youths are wont to do, for his "deprivation of my human rights" and for "impinging on my right to free speech", more out of the amazing teenage ability to regurgitate key words rather than an understanding of the issues.  But is broadband access a human right?  The UN seems to think so, and Finland has adopted the UN's recommendations as law.

The UN produced the "Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression".  They state that "the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realising 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".

While some may not see the internet as a necessity, there are so many ways it improves our lives beyond our personal use.  The florist we go to has had her business efficiency increased through online ordering and cloud accounting software, the corner store cut costs after finding a cheap way to resell old stock online.

On a broader level access to good quality internet has become vital for schooling and increasingly integral for staying in touch and up to date. 

Early Adopters of the convention

Most teenagers would probably go a night without water over a night without an internet connection.  But the Government of Finland has elevated broadband to the status of a human right in its legislation. They have committed to a universal 1mbps connection from the 1st of July this year and internet in every home (or 100% penetration) by 2015 at a speed of 100mbps. 


Suvi Linden, Finland's previous Minister of Communications, commented on their decision saying, "we considered the role of the internet in a Finn's everyday life. Internet services are no longer just for entertainment."  She added that it would help bridge the rural and metro divide and drive economic efficiency and productivity.

Most countries are adopting the ICCPR convention as policy, however adopting isn't the same as ratifying and codifying the conventions.

Is Broadband A Human Right?

The Chinese government continues to come under scrutiny for human rights violations however has committed to reaching the ICCPR target.  They are currently sitting on a 45% penetration rate of internet into households, and aim for 800 million people reached by 2015.  In their latest National Human Rights Action Plan of China, they address these aims, but said very little about their breaches of rights to freedom of communication and political expression in the online space. The Human Rights Practices Report from the US state department highlighted this noting "the authorities [have] increased attempts to limit freedom of speech and to control the press, the internet, and internet access".

China has also had a stoush with Google over restricting and censoring service.  Google has attempted to overcome this by diplomatically alerting Chinese users to words that seem to "lead to connection errors", as a way of guiding Chinese users into finding search terms that will avoid censorship. 

Broadband in Australia


Australian policy makers have discussed internet filters and censorship and the Federal Government has committed to a National Broadband Network aiming for 100% coverage; however has hesitated to codify the recommendations of the UN into legislation.
The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network made a recommendation as part of the national Human Rights Action Plan, and went beyond the rural and metro divide as a factor to be considered, adding that socio economic factors like income and ethnicity as relevant in bridging the gap between the digi-haves and the digi-don'ts. 

This appraisal of the Human Rights Plan raises ire and relief.  On one hand the tax dollars of the metro will often pay for the rural user's infrastructure and for the sake of a few connections running fibre to the middle of Kakadu would be expensive.  On the other hand universal access and a level playing field have been proven to be integral to economic growth and development


While many commentators have decried the cost of universal access compared to the benefit, but they are mistaken.  At Compare Broadband we speak to rural Australians every day, and hear their desperation and frustration about only being able to access satellite, or slow ADSL or wireless options.


Not being able to access information quickly puts you at a distinct disadvantage, both in the field of education as well as business.  Rural Australians struggle with isolation and the communication barrier imposed by an unstable or non-existent connection can only add to this.

Even those that can get a good connection have hit a wall with data caps, wanting more and more internet for their needs.   When iiNet's CTO John Lindsay commented on why they don't offer unlimited caps he said that if they did 3% of their users would be using over 50% of the bandwidth, and this wouldn't be fair. 

Cheap data in Australia

Some ISP's DO offer unlimited internet, however whether you would call them human right activists is another story.

Dodo offer an unlimited bundle for $59.80, you can find out about their offers on 1300 16 793. 

TPG offer the unlimited bundle for 10c more, if their infrastructure is available.  Give us a bell on 1300 106 571 to check availability. Both of these plans include line rental.

iPrimus also offer an unlimited service and have a naked plan for $69.95.  Their naked plan is ten dollars more than the equivalent home phone and internet bundle with a budget provider, but all their call centres are in Australia and they have the highest customer survey rating (94%) so its money well spent.  Give them a bell on 1300 137 794

Club Telco can actually offer a bundle with unlimited internet and line rental for $55 if you're in the right area.  They also have the most mobile data for the cheapest, with 15GB available for $55 a month.  They can be reached on 1300 138 155.

As with most ICCPR conventions it is unlikely that Australia will codify it, however with the development of the NBN, and the move in the consumer market towards bigger plans, an average speed of 4.5 mbps per second and a penetration of 89.9% already, it seems like we are on the right track.