Free Internet Access in Andalusia – A basic right?

According to “El País”, Manuel Chaves, president of Andalusia promised in his electoral pre-campaign that if he wins next elections, all Andalusia citizens will have universal and free broad-band Internet access. Even a date is settled, November 2009. This measure was received with incredulity by Internet users and created a huge debate on if this is a social priority and if the State should be the one to provide Internet access. However, this can also represent an approach to overcome digital divide and to integrate Andalusia in the Knowledge and Information Society, as it is, in fact, an irreversible reality. If access to Knowledge is a basic right of the present society, Internet can, in effect, play an important role. In this framework, Internet access becomes a basic right.

Internet use in Andalusia is lower than the national average. Data from INE (National Statistic Institute) demonstrate that in the previous three months, 47% of Andalusos used Internet. The national average is 52%. If we address the frequent users (at least once per week), in Andalusia the percentage is 38,1%, while the national average is 44,4%. It’s important to highlight that Andalusia is the most populous (in 2006 – 7,975,672 inhabitants) and the second largest (with eight provinces), in terms of its land area, of the seventeen Spanish autonomous communities.

The opposition state that this measure and the established date are impossible to achieve, emphasizing that the region has a significant number of councils that do not have infra-structures to provide this type of technology. Nevertheless, the polemic proposal has woken up ghosts of the past. Other councils tried to provide Internet free access, namely Atarfe (Granada) and Ponteareas (Pontevedra) that in 2004 installed Wi-Fi free networks. However, they collided with the competitive Spanish sector that denounced to the Telecommunications Commission (CTM), the disloyal competition endorsed by these local governments in a market based in a free competition regime. These councils lost the battle. Barcelona also tried a similar approach, but without success.

Well, the discussion is open…let’s see what the future holds.

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