The world has been fighting the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) since late 2019, and with it, we have witnessed the intensifying need to get everyone, particularly underrepresented communities, online. To provide guidance, Access Now releases Expanding connectivity to fight COVID-19: recommendations for governments and telcos, a series of recommendations for telecommunications companies and governments that could help prevent people from losing their connections and improve connectivity, drawing lessons from the experiences of users at risk around the world. The recommendations include:
- Telcos should ease financial burdens on customers
- Telcos and governments should ensure access to a free and open internet, following the principles of Net Neutrality
- Governments should not shut down the internet under any circumstances
- Governments should make it easier for people, particularly in low-income communities, to access the internet
It is imperative that everyone, especially those in at-risk or under-served communities, such as low-income people, have access to a high-quality internet connection. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, many services for daily functioning, such as banking, had moved online, and the current situation simply highlights further the acute discrepancy in internet access across communities. The internet today is an essential tool for employment, education, health, communication, political engagement, and accessing other important resources. Moreover, those without a connection are cut off from exercising a broad range of human rights, including the right to access information. Yet, only 54% of the world’s population has an internet connection.
Our report features case studies from around the world — from Pakistan to Uganda, Canada to Argentina — to highlight both beneficial and harmful connectivity-related responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. We leverage these examples to develop a set of recommendations that focuses primarily on keeping communities connected and getting new communities connected — either through telecommunications companies investing themselves, or through governments making such investments.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has turned a spotlight on the long-existing disparity in connectivity across the globe and the real harm it is causing, especially for people who are otherwise at risk,” said Eric Null, U.S. Policy Manager and Global Net Neutrality Lead at Access Now. “Before the COVID-19 health crisis threw our world into turmoil, many people relied on the internet for basic functioning in everyday life, and those without access to a high-quality internet connection were falling behind and suffering. Now, those who have a connection can stay home and protect their families without spreading COVID-19, while those who don’t are forced to go out and risk their own and others’ lives to meet their basic needs. All around the world, decision-makers in government and the private sector have the obligation to step up and fix this problem. Our recommendations are aimed at spurring the rapid, robust response that is necessary to save lives.”
“Governments should lift all restrictions that make it hard for people to connect to the internet immediately,” said Berhan Taye, Senior Policy Analyst and Global Internet Shutdowns Lead at Access Now. “Currently, the Ugandan government is unfairly taxing citizens $0.05 every day to use social media platforms, while other governments, like India, Bangladesh, and Myanmar, have denied the most vulnerable within their border access to the internet and limited their ability to protect themselves and their loved ones from COVID-19.”