It has been five years since Finland became the first country in the world to legally declare Internet access a human right. The government then set an ambitious target to deliver 100+Mp/s of fibre broadband to every Finnish citizen by the end of 2015. The ‘Broadband For All’ project aspires to connect over 99% of the population, from the remote hamlet of Autti to the hyper-efficient and thriving capital of Helsinki.
As a report published recently by the Finnish Communications Regulatory Authority showed, over 90% of all citizens use mobile Internet. The Finnish government has acknowledged the simple fact that now we have the Internet, we can’t, and shouldn’t, imagine life without it. In fact, getting online in Helsinki is already as easy as breathing. No passwords are required. The cities’ download rate averages 39.25Mp/s, compared to London’s paltry average of 17.6Mp/s with 4G, according to Ofcom’s figures from April 2015.
So, is the UK lagging behind? I spoke with a BT spokesperson, who told me: “The ambitions for broadband access in Finland are admirable, and we’re equally ambitious here in the UK… We’re supporting the government’s aim of getting superfast technology to 95% of the country by the end of 2017.” However, according to a BBC report, the UK is indeed in the broadband slow lane; data from Ookla showed that London’s average download speed ranks 26th out of 33 European capitals. TalkTalk have even claimed on the BBC Today programme that the UK rank behind Ukraine on the speedometer.
This is partly due to the fact that the UK is cracking down on censorship and tightening spying powers via the Draft Communications Data Bill, proposed by the current government. David Cameron is seeking to enforce greater control over the Internet, which in this day and age seems to be about as logical as trying to catch a slippery fish with bare hands. Yet if Internet access was ruled as a human right in the UK, strict data sanctions could not legally come into effect. It could also prompt changes on the way ISPs market their services, by calling for a lifting of restraints on data allowance and usage. At the moment, leading broadband companies believe this is a hypothetical scenario, despite three quarters of Britons believing Internet access should be classified as a fundamental human right.
Non-profit organisation, A Human Right, is fighting to change this on a global scale. Based on the values of economic growth, citizenship and education, the project’s mission is simple: get the 4.6 billion disconnected people online. “The Internet is the nervous system for humanity,” founder Kosta Grammatis explains to me, “Slowly we are all being connected, which is helping us to collaborate, learn, empathise, and understand each other. Individuals with access can participate in our global society… those without are left behind.”
After leaving his job as an engineer at SpaceX, Grammatis approached his chosen cause with wild ambition. Beginning with BuyThisSatellite.org, he sought funding to launch a satellite that could beam Internet connection to the developing world. He then tried to experiment with persuading telecom companies to donate unused broadband to those left behind.
Both projects failed due to the sheer scope of the task at hand, but Grammatis remains undeterred. His mission, he tells me, is to continue “advocating Internet for all.” He did succeed, however, in his campaign to bring a super-fast fibre cable to St Helena, an isolated British outlaying island, via his website MoveThisCable.org. Connecting this population of 4,200, Grammatis argued, would boost their flagging economy as well as improving standards of education and healthcare.
Grammatis also makes the case for progressive legislation, and calls for government intervention to ensure nobody is without access. “We need to treat [the] Internet like a utility,” he argues. “Every government should ensure their citizens have equal access to the Internet at a guaranteed rate of speed and price.” It is time we followed Finland’s example, while fighting to protect our data freedom and moving towards global equality in the wake of the information revolution.
Words: Trudie Carter