Connectivity needs to be a human right

Today South Africa celebrates Human Rights Day. The public holiday has resulted in long weekend for 2022, which means many will be using the day to decompress or find some respite from what has already proved a challenging start to the year.

It also provides the opportunity to reflect and, for us, a chance to think about what should be considered a human right in this day and age.

This brings us to the topic of connectivity, which is rather fitting as ICASA has finalised its overdrawn 5G spectrum auction process.

On this front, while most of South Africa is covered by one of the three major network operators with 3G or 4G, along with most suburbs now fibre rich, there are still vast swathes of the population that are not able to access the internet.

This coupled with the fact that the average cost of of 1GB of data being close to R40, ranking SA 136th in the world, means there is a lot more work to de done in order for internet access to be democratised.

Yes we are fully aware that calling for greater connectivity and asking for it to be classified a human right might come across as tone deaf, especially as other human rights as outlined by government – housing, health care, food, water and social security – are still not being realised, but the past two years has illustrated just how wide the digital divide is in this country.

A simple example of this is the education sector, where many learners and Matric students in particular had to deal with remote learning and a severely disrupted curriculum. It was especially difficult for those learners in households where connectivity was not readily available, which combined with bouts of blackouts thanks to Eskom, only exacerbated the situation.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) highlighted this issue, which not only plagued South Africa, but many countries across the globe.

“Globally, only just over half of households (55%) have an internet connection, according to UNESCO. In the developed world, 87% are connected compared with 47% in developing nations, and just 19% in the least developed countries,” the WEF wrote in a blog post.

“In total, 3.7 billion people have no internet access. The majority are in poorer countries, where the need to spread information about how to combat COVID-19 is most urgent. Migrants and the poorest are most vulnerable to the virus, says the World Health Organization (WHO),” it added.

With this digital divide showing no signs of closing, more needs to be done to make internet access more widely available in South Africa, especially for information that is critical in the educational sphere.

Whether that can actually ever happen is unfortunately unlikely, unless there is greater collaboration between government and the private sector.

We have seen a handful of initiatives during the past two years aimed at zero-rating data or increasing bandwidth on existing fibre lines, but a more unified effort to make connectivity easily accessible and more importantly affordable, needs to happen.

Connectivity may not be a human right at the moment in SA, but Unicef says participation and inclusion should be deemed human rights.

“Every person and all peoples are entitled to active, free and meaningful participation in, contribution to, and enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural development, through which human rights and fundamental freedoms can be realized,” says the organisation.

We’d argue that connectivity falls directly into this classification.

[Image – Photo by Vyacheslav Shatskiy on Unsplash]


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