Of course BT has attempted to fix this. In July 2008 it announced the start of a £1.5bn fibre roll-out programme. The aim was to bring 100Mbit connection speeds to 10 million UK homes by 2012. From a perspective of mid 2011 we can safely say it is miles off. In June 2009 The Digital Britain report aimed to go a step further. It said every home should have a minimum of a 2Mbit connection by 2012. My parents' village is currently locked by BT at 0.5Mbit for "line stabilisation" purposes. Again it seems a pipe dream.
In fairness to La Rue he isn't naïve. His report acknowledges "Given that access to basic commodities such as electricity remains difficult in many developing States, the Special Rapporteur is acutely aware that universal access to the Internet for all individuals worldwide cannot be achieved instantly."
He does, however, remind "all States of their positive obligation to promote or to facilitate the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression and the means necessary to exercise this right, including the Internet. Hence, States should adopt effective and concrete policies and strategies –- developed in consultation with individuals from all segments of society, including the private sector as well as relevant Government ministries -– to make the Internet widely available, accessible and affordable to all." To which we say 'Here! Here!"
Dig deeper into the report though and you'll find another equally powerful recommendation from which the ramifications could be just as large: "The Special Rapporteur remains concerned that legitimate online expression is being criminalised in contravention of States' international human rights obligations, whether it is through the application of existing criminal laws to online expression, or through the creation of new laws specifically designed to criminalize expression on the Internet."
He continues: "The Special Rapporteur considers cutting off users from internet access, regardless of the justification provided, including on the grounds of violating intellectual property rights law, to be disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights."
You only need to look at the recently passed Digital Economy Act to realise its proposals to punish file sharers by cutting off their Internet access would now be deemed to breach human rights. We've made our feelings known in the past about this Act – as have ISPs – but facing off with the United Nations is an entirely different prospect and expect a backlash from copyright holders. Ofcom will have its hands full.
Ultimately La Rue's report raises more questions than it answers, but it is arguably a powerful and well meaning step in the right direction. Especially coming at a time where questions are being raised about traffic management and net neutrality. The consequences to the UN's decision should be fascinating to watch over the coming months and years, but for now we'll leave you with the final thoughts of Frank La Rue and his vision of a digital future:
"By enabling individuals to exchange information and ideas instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders, the Internet allows access to information and knowledge that was previously unattainable. This, in turn, contributes to the discovery of the truth and progress of society as a whole."