Surfing the web is a right

In our collegiate world, its easy to assume that the Internet is everywhere.

Most of us have grown up using it for homework, socializing, entertainment and of course procrastinating.

So it might surprise us that about 2.3 billion people worldwide do not have access to the Internet, as a report from the International Telecommunications Union reveals.

This means that about one third of the total world population does not have the ability to surf the web as you or I might.

Back in the day, the Internet was a luxury that only a select few could afford. To even have access to the Internet you had to have a computer, and those were mighty expensive.

In the twenty-first century, everything has changed. Internet is accessible through phones, tablets and a variety of other mobile devices. Why does this internet-access disparity persist?

It comes down to the question of whether the Internet is a right or a privilege.

At one point in history, it certainly was a privilege. But times have changed and the disadvantages of not having access to the Internet are enormous.

Take education, for instance. Students who do not have a computer or Internet access at home are at a great disadvantage in comparison to those who do.

As schools move away from physical books and handwritten essays, the Internet becomes essential.

The reality is that education is already negatively affected by income inequality. Without the right and opportunity to go online, poor students risk falling farther behind.

In fact, a Sutton Trust study found that children from the lowest-income families living in the U.K. were about one year behind children from middle-income families in vocabulary tests when they started school.

Sadly, the largest single contributing factor to this gap was that the low-income families did not have Internet access at home.

Adults also face disadvantages without Internet access.

Finding jobs, running businesses, connecting socially, checking email and voicing political concerns all these tasks require Internet, and that means money.

Julius Genachowski, chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission was quoted in the New York Times saying, The broadband divide is a real threat to the American dream The costs of digital exclusion are getting higher and higher.

The Internet has great potential to be an egalitarian platform for knowledge and expression, but if only the so-called privileged can access it, the point becomes mute.

So, if Internet access has become a right, what can be done to promote universal access?

Some progress has been made. Instead of adding Internet accessibility to the umbrella of government responsibilities, the Obama administration has urged private-public collaborations to bring Internet to the 100 million Americans who do not have it, according to the New York Times.

Comcast has created an Internet Essentials program that brings low-income houses Internet services for $9.95 a month.

In doing so, the company fulfills the regulatory requirement to provide low-income individuals with affordable Internet access.

This is an excellent example of action taken on by both the government and the business sector.

By investing in communities, Comcast not only gives back but also has the opportunity to reach out to potential customers.

At some point in the future, Internet access may be overseen by the government and funded from taxation.

The fact is that until there is equal access to the Internet, the educational and socio-economic gaps will continue to grow.

Ultimately, not having Internet access does nothing but erode society by generating social and economic inequalities.

That is why the Internet has become a right and not a privilege in the twenty-first century.