Monique Keiran: Internet a basic service, but so is water

When the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission declared high-speed Internet a basic service necessary to all Canadians’ quality of life last month, it acknowledged the modern information highway as being the primary route by which news, employment notices, financial information and much of education is shared today.

If only the government would adopt that same attitude toward safe drinking water.

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With each passing year, living without Internet access becomes more challenging.

Even the courts recognize the necessity of Internet access. In her 2014 decision in R. vs. McKay, Alberta Provincial Court Judge H.A. Lamoureux stated that, for many Canadians, the Internet is the go-to source for information, for education, and for access to services.

“The computer generation considers the Internet, the cellphone, the iPad, the smartphone, essential partners in daily life,” Lamoureux wrote.

Under its new strategy, the CRTC aims to provide all Canadians with access to reliable, world-class mobile and fixed Internet services, with targeted network speeds of 50 megabits per second for downloading and 10 Mbps for uploading.

To that end, the CRTC is setting up a $750-million fund to support projects in regions that do not meet those targets.

In addition, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada also announced it is investing up to $500 million to bring high-speed broadband internet to 300 rural and remote communities by 2021.

While stopping short of defining high-speed Internet access as a right, the CRTC declares it is necessary to Canadians’ quality of life. In 2011 — the last time the CRTC reviewed the definition of “basic telecommunications services” — it deemed such services to include a landline telephone, a low-speed Internet connection and a printed copy of the local phone book upon request.

It also had set an aspirational target of universal Internet access of speeds of five Mbps for downloading and one Mbps for uploading.

In July, the UN Human Rights Council passed a non-binding resolution asserting that public Internet access should not be disrupted by governments or their agencies. While also not declaring Internet access a human right, the UN affirms “the same rights that people have offline must also be protected online.”

It links Internet communications to the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as described by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Canada signed in 1948.

Internet access also ties into the right to development by providing economic development opportunities, improving low-income individuals’ access to education and financial services, and enabling online trading — a view echoed in the CRTC’s December announcement.

The UN resolution was passed and was signed by 70 countries, including Canada. As a non-binding resolution, the motion requires signatory states to act to apply it within the frameworks of their own constitutions.

To add perspective, in July 2010, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution that recognized the human right to water and sanitation, and acknowledged that clean drinking water and sanitation are essential to the realization of all human rights.

The resolution calls upon governments to provide resources to help countries, in particular developing countries, to provide safe, clean, accessible and affordable drinking water and sanitation for all.

More than 120 nations voted in favour of the resolution. More than 40 — including Canada — abstained.

The following September, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution both affirming that the rights to water and sanitation are part of existing international law and confirming that these rights are legally binding upon states.

It can be difficult to imagine life without Internet access these days — and the access to news, education, employment opportunities, as well as online shopping, unlimited cat videos and regular contact with friends and family.

But imagine life without regular access to clean, safe, reliable drinking water. That is, imagine what life would be like on any number of First Nations reserves or other communities in Canada — not all of them remote and some of them here on Vancouver Island — that have been living under long-standing or regularly recurring boil-water advisories for years.

Where are the funding programs to help these communities attain this basic human right?

keiran_monique@rocketmail.com

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