Kerala will soon become the first state in the country to declare Internet access as a human right.
In the state budget presented two weeks ago, the CPI(M)-led government earmarked a special fund aimed at providing Internet connections to 20 lakh families either at subsidised rates or completely free of cost.
The Kerala government feels that nobody in a country rapidly heading towards hassle-free governance and a cashless economy should be at pains to acquire the new-age technology.
High-speed internet connectivity is a basic right in most developed nations. In 2010, Sweden became the first country to make broadband Internet a legal right for every citizen. Canada followed suit last year, ensuring that every resident was entitled to Internet access at a minimum speed of 50 Mbps.
The state, which lays claim to many firsts in human development indices, plans to launch a big campaign on the lines of its ambitious e-literacy programme – Akshaya – to empower those deprived of Internet connectivity.
Akshaya, launched in the early 2000s, catapulted Kerala into becoming India’s most e-literate state by 2016-end.
Speaking to Hindustan Times, finance minister Thomas Issac said a new firm will be floated with the help of the state electricity board to oversee the revolutionary scheme. “First we have to ensure that adequate infrastructure is put in place. We will take a Rs 1,000-crore loan from the Kerala Infrastructure Development Fund Board for the purpose. After that, we will speak to telecom providers in this regard,” he said.
The state plans to install a new high-speed optical fibre network called K:Fon, which will run parallel to the existing electricity board network. “If everything goes well, almost all governmental transactions will be available online by 2018. So, we have to equip all the citizens to meet this standard,” Issac said.
The government plans to provide free Internet connections to people from economically backward sections, and at subsidised rates to others. “We hope to achieve 100% connectivity in a year’s time. At least one person of a family will be given access initially,” the finance minister claimed.
A tribal settlement in Malappuram was declared as the country’s first digital tribal colony last December. The district administration achieved this by training 100-odd families in carrying out cashless transactions.
What is Right to Internet?
Right to Internet entails that all people must have access to broadband Internet, so they can exercise their right to freedom of opinion and speech. States, therefore, have the responsibility of ensuring that Net access is made available to them. In 2016, the UN said that depriving people of Internet connectivity was a human rights violation running contrary to international law.
At present, Internet connectivity is a human right in Sweden, Costa Rica, Finland, France, Greece, Spain, Estonia and Canada. According to a study conducted by Committee to Protect Journalists, the worst violator of this ‘right’ is North Korea (where only 4% of the population have Internet access) – followed by Myanmar, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Syria, China and Pakistan. India ranks at 47.