Today, Finland becomes the first country in the world to enshrine internet access as a legal right for its citizens. This piece from the BBC provides a quick overview of what has been accomplished, and follows on from the BBC survey earlier this year which identified access as a fundamental right. The Finns passed their bill in October 2009 and the aim is to provide citizen access to 100mbs - by right - in 2015.
Last year, France declared in its courts that internet access was a human right and other countries are following suit - but Finland wins the game today with its activation of last year's law.
Here in New Zealand, where we still struggle with connectivity, an effective duopoly of provision between Telecom and Vodafone with a few minnows struggling upstream, means the statistics are not so good. In Finland, 96% of the population is already on line. With a population of 5.3m, that's not so much bigger than us, yet Statistics NZ's number release in April this year advises that only 1m Kiwis are active broadband users, 80% are regular users but rural populations are still struggling along on dial-up.
There was a reasonable and robust programme of digital engagement under the last NZ government. Since John Key and the Nationals were elected, there has been far less emphasis and discussion on how we can ensure that the digital divide is bridged - and bridged quickly. Areas of access, digital literacy, digital education have all faded into the background. Sadly, basic infrastructure is lacking along with the will to change and despite our much vaunted Kiwi ingenuity, I fear that unless there is some real leadership, we will soon find ourselves far behind other countries in the world. And it is very easy to 'slip behind'.
Technology is a key enabler. It facilitates education, change, progress and problem solving. Access in itself is not a 'human right' but making it a 'legal right' certainly helps us all to improve the level of human rights around us.
Below is a great TED video from Hans Rosling from 2007, which looks at progress through the eyes of a very creative statistician, who demonstrates that change is possible, nothing is impossible - but we do have to be able to distinguish between goals and means if we are to make any progress at all. I hope that our own New Zealand government uses Finland as a credible and praiseworthy example as to what is possible in the area of digital access and starts sorting out an infrastructure that will allow everyone here to benefit in the same way as the citizens of Finland.