The right to access the internet in Latin America

6 Dec 2016 12:30h - 14:00h

Event report

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This session, moderated by Mr Luis Fernando Garcia, Director, R3D, was organised by R3D in collaboration with Association for Progressive Communication (APC) to explore what it means for the Internet to be regarded as a right with a special focus on the Latin America context.

Garcia, introducing the session, recapped the questions already shared with the panel. He mentioned that answers to the questions would serve as input to a proposal by R3D which seeks to understand what the right to access of the Internet is and what form that right takes. The questions explored were identified: What is the importance of access to the Internet for the individual and for society? What is the relationship between the right to access the Internet and other rights? What are the roles of states, the private sector, and other civil society and actors to achieve universal access to the Internet? Which principles should we consider when restricting the right to access the Internet?

Garcia, introducing his draft proposal to the panel and the audience, delved into the elements he considered as constituting the right to access the Internet such as availability, equality, and accessibility with an explanation of what each of these elements means in Internet parlance. On availability, there should be infrastructure, equipment, and installations necessary to offer connectivity to the Internet to all people within a state in a continuous manner. On accessibility, people should have access to the physical infrastructure and equipment. The service must be in locations that are accessible. Economically, people should be able to afford Internet services. On equality, people should have equal opportunity to acquire skills and know-how to use internet resources and there should be non-discrimination in the access to the internet.

Ms Lina Ornelas, Chief of Public Policies and Government Relations for Google in Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean, started the discussion from the panellists. She sought to address the first two questions up for discussion by likening access to the Internet to access to water – it must be available and must be clean to assure quality. For her, once the Internet has been recognised as a human right in the Mexican constitution, with the guarantee that it is free and not subject to any form of arbitrary interference, we need to begin to see that the Internet right is also an enabler for the attainment of other human rights since without it you can cannot have freedom of expression and access to information and you cannot have a better democracy, better services from governments, etc.

A commissioner from Mexico, although not part of the panel was given an opportunity to say a few words. She mentioned that in Mexico, in addition to access to the Internet as a human right, under the constitution there are other public services such as telecom and broadcasting services. She mentioned that although it is important to have the Internet enshrined as a human right in the constitution, it is even more important to ensure that the right is made real in the lives of Mexican citizen.

Mr Erick Huerta, General Coordinator and Member of the Consultative Council of Telecommunications for Mexico, mentioned that regulators are in a better place to create an even better environment now. Industry players also have access to technologies that ensure that the spectrum is maximised and so no longer pose a constraint. In his view, industry players are doing their best, but more effort must be put into ensuring that the next billion people who are offline are connected.

Mr Claudio Ruiz, Executive Director at ONG Derechos Digitales, Chile, the last speaker on the panel, looked at the questions posed in terms of the economic, social, and cultural contexts. He mentioned that in addition to advocating that we have the right content online, we should not shy away from defending some of the most important principles that safeguard access. We should not stop campaigning against blocking of content, censorship, surveillance, data protection breaches, and criminalisation of online content and so on.

An opportunity was opened to the participants for questions and answers.

The session ended with the moderator thanking all the panellists and participants for their valuable input to shape the proposal.

by Jacob Odame-Baiden, Internet Society Ghana