Chinese Believe Internet Access is a Fundamental Right

Cat 5 cables.

While the internet exploded in popularity for Americans in the 90s amidst a flurry of AOL discs and disconnects and dot-com booms and busts, it probably wasn’t until the 2000s that it went mainstream for the Chinese. Even so, China has done quite well making up for lost time. Smoky internet bars with sticky keyboards and sleeping youth are now ubiquitous in just about every city of China where, despite the biohazards, they provide much of China’s massive population decent computing hardware and easy overnight accommodations broadband internet access for as cheap as a couple of RMB an hour.

Chinese girl asleep at an internet bar in China.

Going hand in hand, there are now more Chinese online than there are Americans in this world1, and Chinese internet users has become a defining element of modern Chinese society.

Screeching and squealing 14.4k baud modems were fun and all, but it was fat pipe broadband that truly made the world wide web a staple of modern living. No one understands that better than the Finns, who last October made Finland the first country in the world to declare broadband internet access as a “basic human right”.

Freakin’ awesome, right?

With the revolution having thus begun by the Europeans, it is perhaps unsurprising that four out of five respondents to a recent BBC World Service poll involving 27,000 people throughout 26 countries believe access to the internet is a fundamental right.

What? Are you serious?

Yeah, and apparently these feelings are particularly strong in South Korea and China2.

More notable findings:

  • 78% believed the internet gave them “greater freedom”.
  • And over half feel the internet shouldn’t be regulated whatsoever by any governments anywhere.
  • South Koreans, Mexicans, and Nigerians apparently felt most strongly about this.
  • Whereas Pakistanis, Turks, and Chinese did not.
  • Americans were ahead of the curve when it came to expressing opinions online.
  • 65% of Japanese, however, felt differently, that they couldn’t “safely” express themselves on the internet.
  • People in France, Germany, South Korea, and China felt likewise.
  • Over 70% of respondents in Japan, Mexico, and Russia said they couldn’t live without being able to go online.
  • But respondents feared online fraud, more so than violent/explicit content and threats to their privacy.
  • 9 out of 10 said the internet was a good place to learn.
  • Nearly 50% say that the internet was valuable for finding information.
  • Over 30% valued it as a means of communicating and interacting with others.
  • But only 12% valued the internet as a source of entertainment.

Bunch of liars.

Korean girls playing computer games at E-Stars Festival.

Korean girls playing computer games at a "e-sports" competition.

So what do you think? Has access to the internet become so important and inalienable to our lives that it can now be regarded as a “fundamental right?”

The Finns have already. Will there be an amendment forthcoming for the American Bill of Rights? How about the Chinese constitution, of course, with the requisite provision allowing the government to violate it at will?

If internet access is now seen as a fundamental, legal, human right…when are they going to make it free?

  1. China apparently now has over 384 million internet users, which is nearly 80 million more than the population of the United States []
  2. Starcraft and World of Warcraft? Internet addiction for the win? Blizzard for the win? []


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  1. kdavid

    Perhaps I’m reading too far into this, but another way to propose this question is: Is the access to “free” information a fundamental right? The internet provides a resource for us to connect and share with others. Whether it be the sharing of information, entertainment, etc., the internet is used to help us communicate and connect with others.

    If this is the question, then some countries view this “fundamental right” in a much different light. China, with their heavy censorship policies, certainly doesn’t believe that access to all information is a right. In fact, access to or propagating the “wrong” type of information can get one in quite a bit of trouble.

    I read somewhere quite awhile ago that the US lagged behind many countries in internet speed and infrastructure. It’s also quite common in the States to have dropped calls on your mobile. China, on the other hand, has great download speeds and internet bars everywhere. I’ve also never had a dropped call here (been here going on four years).

    With that said, it’s a bit odd to see how the US, which “supports” free speech, has failed to stay ahead of China, which seems to be going to great lengths to provide its citizens with quality internet access and mobile networks.

    • Hey kdavid,

      Actually, I don’t think “is the access to ‘free’ information a fundamental right” is another way to ask my question. For me, I’m intentionally NOT jumping to that conclusion and asking that question PRECISELY because so many people want to. That debate is an old one, one where the vast majority of people agree with each other that they’d love access to “free” information.

      Going along with you, however, I agree that different countries view the right differently. I hesitate, though, to make the statement you did about China. There will be too many people who will nod their heads in agreement with you, but arrive at the unfair conclusion that yes, China and its “heavy censorship policies” obviously don’t believe it is a right, but thankfully other countries do. And that isn’t true. No country, as far as I know, believes that access to all information is a right. It’s a polarizing statement.

      China’s network infrastructure is decent though not as good as, say, South Korea’s. I don’t know how it stacks up against America. Either way, while I totally understand what you mean, I don’t think infrastructure is a sufficient proxy for “free speech”.

      Cheers, thanks for commenting.

      • kdavid

        I totally agree that there are plenty of other countries out there, including the US, the don’t believe all information should be either a) available or b) free.

        Jon Stewart just did an interview with a guy on Monday who attempted to out several people involved in the recent Wall Street collapse many, many years ago. The SEC essentially silently nodded its head but kept the whole ordeal out of the mainstream medium. America, and its medias’ tendency to blatantly skew information, is doing many things through private sectors that China does in its public sectors.

  2. As with most things in life the, the devil is in the detail – so access to the internet is a fundamental right but what is the ‘internet’ that people have access to and how is their access regarded, is it:
    net neutral/net owned?
    Without answers to these questions the fundamental right is meaningless.

  3. Jay (a different one)

    What about the right to not be constantly bombarded with ‘information’ (most of it isn’t) or the right not to have to own a computer, trendy mobile phone, internet connection, or having to get stunk-up in a wan-ba?
    In some European countries some government services are simply no longer available to you unless you are ‘on-line’. I think that’s a very bad development.
    People want to show their private parts on youtube, fine, twitts twitter, great! But is that the be-all and end-all?

  4. Just in case it’s of interest – Hi-tech governments growing keener on snooping –

  5. whichone

    That the internet is important, useful, and increasingly part of the everyday is all true, but I think to label it a fundamental human right cheapens all the other real fundamental rights. Lack of access to internet is an inconvenience, and can’t possibly be anywhere near the same level of importance as freedom of religion, expression, freedom from oppression and wants. Violation of these fundamental human rights often results in tyrannical acts that outrages the human conscience.

  6. yangrouchuan

    Funny how kdavid touts connectivity as a right but not the content that comes through connectivity. I guess that is a separate issue to be discussed in the eyes of the fen qing posters who are already showing up on this site.

    Oh, and it is still illegal for Chinese citizens to own digital satellite dishes and the international hotels will still get signal disruptions.

    So media is or is not a right, depending on how you define “media”.