In discussing the concept of the “public good” or “public goods”, and defining access to the Internet as a human right, concerns were raised that these approaches invite government intervention. It was suggested that government intervention through, for example a system of treaties and regulatory accords, could have significant and unintended consequences for a free and open Internet. A case study was offered of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Internet Frank LaRue who contended that it is better to leverage existing human rights (such as freedom of speech and freedom of association) in relation to Internet usage, as opposed to creating a “new human right to the Internet.” It was also pointed out that in a context where Internet access is swiftly becoming an indispensable economic and social enabler within a modern hyper-connected world – without Internet access it is becomes increasingly challenging to take full advantage of existing human rights (such as freedom of speech, civil and political freedom as well as potentially social and economic freedoms). Libraries have role to play as institutions which support human rights and freedom of access to information in a digital world.
The question was posed – should the Internet and access to the Internet be considered a global public good (like access to water and breathable air) in that the ideal future scenario is one in which no citizen of the world can be prevented from accessing and enjoying the benefits of the world wide web? How can the public interest be protected in the absence of suitable regulation? It was also questioned what mechanism should be used to support public Internet access – constitutional right, legislative requirement or universal service commitment from government? Should this be expanded to include additional components such as freedom of access to unfiltered search results?
It was commented that we are potentially witnessing a fundamental shift towards a bi-polar world where one side believes that the availability of Internet access and resources should be driven by free market forces – while the other continues to see government as the primary agency behind successfully expanding access to the Internet.