Free internet access for all South Africans should be a basic human right
The IAB SA has kick-started a campaign for all South Africans to have free basic access to the Internet. As the right to information is one of our constitutional rights, it follows that South Africans should have the ability to access this information freely.
Chris Borain, chair of the IAB SA, says, "We believe in fostering digital equality among all citizens. While Icasa is taking great strides to address the high cost of data, a basic level of free Internet access is a separate issue that requires as much attention. All South Africans, especially vulnerable groups and those without access to mobile phones, have the right to access information online, from government services, employment opportunities or online education resources.”
The IAB SA is already partnering with other media stakeholders to justify the case for free basic internet access and stimulate dialogue on the matter.
The IAB SA in partnership with the South African National Editors’ Forum (SANEF), Media Monitoring Africa (MMA), the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) and Applied Law and Technology (altadvisory.africa) have published a research paper on the topic: Perspectives on Universal Access to Online Information in South Africa: Free Public Wi-Fi and Zero-Rated Content, which is publically available.
The paper was launched last year on the International Day for Universal Access to Information at the Internet Freedom in Africa (FIFAfrica) conference. In her address to the Forum, the then outgoing chair of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa and current South African Information Regulator, Adv Pansy Tlakula acknowledged the issues raised in the paper and commended the efforts of all involved.
At its December 2017 National Conference at Nasrec, the ANC resolved to "encourage efforts by Government and the private sector to deploy broadband infrastructure and services and also ensure accessibility of free Wi-Fi as a tool of economic development, including access in rural areas, metros, public schools, clinics and libraries.
An online industry and media delegation led by the IAB earlier this year met with the South African Human Rights Commission to discuss ways in which a basic level of free Internet access for all citizens can be achieved over time.
We proposed a seven point action plan to roll out free internet rights in South Africa:
In response, the COO of the SAHRC, Chantal Kissoon indicated that the commission will consider incorporating monitoring of government’s internet access plans for inclusion in national, regional and international reports on human rights issues; look into the possibility of convening a conference of experts and stakeholders to explore the proposed action plan; and to raise the free internet access issues in outreach and stakeholder engagements.
Anriette Esterhuysen, the APC’s director of global policy and strategy, says that with South Africa’s internet policies, ICT infrastructure, community networks and free internet pilot projects already underway, the country is well placed to become an example of how the developing world can bridge the digital divide, including the gender digital divide. "What is necessary now is for the public sector, business and civil society to take practical steps towards the goal to give every South African a basic level of free access to the internet.”
APPENDIX: Legal framework for the right to free basic Internet Access
Providing all citizens with a basic level of universal free internet access is in line with several global and national policies, including:
The policy further states:
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