Access to communication and information technologies is a key prerequisite to ensuring social and economic inclusion. It is often the first step to realizing other digital rights and freedoms. In 2011, the United Nations declared access to Internet as a human right. In a report, UN Special Rapporteur Frank La Rue asserted that the Internet was key to the manner in which individuals can exercise their right to expression and argued that,“given that the Internet has become an indispensable tool for realizing 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.”
Many states have taken policy and legislative measures to enshrine Internet as a basic human right as part of this mandate including Costa Rica, Finland, France and Spain. Existing universal policies and programs that have been historically used to extend baseline telecommunication services to low-income, rural or remotely located citizens by states, are also being expanded to include Internet access to more people.
Digital technologies have also increasingly overturned previous modes of economic production and build value in having literacies and skills that are geared for the same, frequently rendering older skills and knowledges redundant or obsolete as a trade-off. In such a scenario, merely creating regulatory and infrastructure provisions for access does not go very far in ensuring true inclusion. Digital literacy and outreach must go hand in hand with creating access to ICTs. In a 2011 Policy Brief, the UNESCO institute for Information Technologies in Education stressed on the importance of building digital literacy efforts into policy making. The report noted that digital literacy was a “set of basic skills which include the use and production of digital media, information processing and retrieval, participation in social networks for creation and sharing of knowledge, and a wide range of professional computing skills,” which were necessary because they were a prerequisite to acquiring other important life skills.
This section explores the key issues and themes around access to digital technologies. It examines the concept of the digital divide, examines the common barriers to access and looks at some innovative solutions to the problem.