Most people believe internet access ‘a fundamental right’

8 Mar 2010

Four out of five people around the world believe that access to the internet is a fundamental right, a global survey suggests.

The poll of more than 27,000 adults conducted by GlobeScan for the BBC World Service found that 87pc of those who used the internet felt that internet access should be “the fundamental right of all people.”

More than seven in 10 (71pc) non-internet users also felt they should have the right to access the web.

Countries where high proportions regarded internet access as their fundamental right included South Korea (96pc), Mexico (94pc), and China (87pc).

Positive aspects of the internet

Most web users are positive about the changes the internet has brought to their lives, with strong support for the information available, the greater freedom it brings and social networking. However, there was caution about fraud and expressing opinions online.

Nearly four in five (78pc) respondents said they felt it had brought them greater freedom, nine in 10 (90pc) respondents said they thought it was a good place to learn, and just over half (51pc) said they now enjoyed spending their spare time on social-networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.

Despite this enthusiasm, there is also concern with many web users over speaking their minds online. The poll found they were evenly split between those who felt that “the internet is a safe place to express my opinions” (48pc) and those who did not feel this (49pc).

Japan was among the countries where most web users did not feel they could express their opinions safely online (65pc), alongside South Korea (70pc), France (69pc), Germany (72pc), and China (55pc). In contrast, most Indians (70pc), Ghanaians (74pc), and Kenyans (73pc) felt they could express their opinions safely.

Government regulation over the internet

The poll also showed that most internet users feel that the internet should not be regulated by governments. More than half (53pc) of internet users agreed that “the internet should never be regulated by any level of government anywhere” — including large majorities in South Korea (83pc), Nigeria (77pc) and Mexico (72pc).

Forty-four per cent admitted they did not think they could cope without the internet. Many more felt this way in Japan (84pc), Mexico (81pc), and Russia (71pc), while fewer felt they could not cope without the internet in Pakistan (19pc), the Philippines (21pc), Turkey (27pc), Brazil, and India (both 29pc).

Asked what aspect of the internet they most valued, people most commonly identified the ability to find information of all sorts (47pc), with its next most popular aspect being the ability to interact and communicate with people (32pc).

The internet’s roles as a source of entertainment (12pc), as a tool to locate, research, and buy products and services (5pc), and as a forum for creativity and sharing of content (3pc) were less commonly mentioned as its most valuable aspect.

Internet users concerned about fraud online

The poll also found that fraud was the aspect of the internet that caused people most concern, with 32pc saying it was what worried them most. Fraud emerged as a greater public concern than violent and explicit content, which was mentioned by 27pc, and threats to privacy, which were the major concern of one in five people (20pc).

As BBC World Service reported last month, the poll also reveals that around one in three internet users across the countries polled regard the web as a good place to find a boyfriend or girlfriend.

“Despite worries about privacy and fraud, people around the world see access to the internet as their fundamental right,” said GlobeScan chairman Doug Miller.

“They think the web is a force for good, and most don’t want governments to regulate it,” said Miller.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Forty-four per cent of respondents to a survey by GlobeScan for BBC World Service admitted they did not think they could cope without the internet

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years