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January 10, 2009

Is a cellphone a basic human right?

TECHNOLOGY - As the United States provides mobile phones to the poor, experts argue they are not a luxury any more but necessary for communication and safety in the modern world.

What is the leading preventer of rape?

No, its not Mace, pepper spray, martial arts classes or a gun in your purse. Its a cellphone.

In the United States right now there is a new argument as to what are basic human rights, that all compassionate governments should provide to their people:

a) food
b) shelter
c) health care
d) an emergency cellphone

Option D is really about having "the right to communicate."

In the wake of September 11th and Hurricane Katrina, the United States wants to ensure all Americans have basic phone services and access to help in times of emergency. More than 7 million Americans don't own phones.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has launched SafeLink, a program that provides eligible people with a free cellphone and 68 minutes/month of free airtime for the period of one year. It includes texting, voicemail, call waiting and caller ID. Its the brainchild of Miami-based TracFone Wireless Inc., the largest prepaid cellphone company in the U.S.

SafeLink is subsidized by the FCC's Universal Service Fund, which requires all phone companies to contribute via a monthly $1.25 to $1.50 addition to their bill, similar to the new 25-cent 911 fee in Canada.

SafeLink is already in Florida, Tennessee and Virginia, where more than 2 million households qualify for the service, and is scheduled to go into nine other states, including New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

And no, this is not just a marketing gimmick.

As of 2008 more than 21 million Canadians have cellphones. Those who can't afford them or their running costs are increasingly excluded from today's hyper-connected world. The SafeLink program raises a significant question: How do you keep human rights up to date with technology?

A 2007 U.S. study on the impact of cellphones on low-income people concluded they are an "imperative necessity" in a high-tech world. Some 40% of blue-collar workers said the phone's mobility had improved their chances of finding a job and earning money through self-employment. "Cellphone connectivity vastly encourages their opportunities and remains central to everyday survival," says the studies author Nicholas Sullivan, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Other studies have shown lack of telephone access is a huge problem for those who've fallen on hard economic times. They can't get callbacks if they're job searching and risk confidence-killing isolation. Those with cellphones are more likely to be employed and have a clean criminal record.

In some countries, like South Korea and Japan, cellphones are so popular they are now basically mandatory.

According to a recent British study, developing nations that use cellphones have a higher rate of economic growth, attract more foreign investment and help small businesses become more efficient. Africa for example is now the world's fastest-growing mobile market. Even those in refugee camps depend on prepaid cellphones that are recharged with a generator – and nobody regards them as a luxury.

It also prevents wasted travel costs in the event someone decides to cancel a meeting, allows parents to maintain contact with their children or babysitters, provides peace-of-mind, call 911 on a moments notice and a slew of other benefits.

Those eligible for SafeLink must already be on a federal welfare program – Medicaid, public housing, food stamps and so on. But a person making under $18,000 can also qualify; the ceiling for a family of four is $26,000.

The FCC program has tried since 1984 to help make phones affordable by discounting installation fees or subsidizing monthly charges. The cost was too high however. SafeLink is the first totally free project and is aimed at reducing poverty in America.

Pending the success of the program we may see cellphones spread around the world as a free service for everyone. Countries benefiting from the economic power of cellphones may decide to add it to a list of services that are already free like health care, military, police and fire services, education and postal workers.

Postal workers, an excellent example, are already subsidized by governments. The cost of stamps is just to offset the overall costs. The idea is still the same however: To allow countries to communicate. Stamps were a 19th century technology first introduced in the UK and Ireland May 1st 1840. Cellphones is just an extension of that idea. Promoting communication and economic growth.

Cellphones is the technology of the present and the future.

See Also: The $100 Laptop, Tech Savvy Teens and The Future of Phones




Looking to buy Business Phones for your office? Remember to set a budget, determine your needs and remember you can always upgrade later.

1 comment:

  1. Basically, I would say no. Is having a drivers license a right? Is having a computer a right? Is having an ipod a right?

    It's a priveldge, if anything. I lived for years without a cellular phone. When I was in New York City on 9/11 I didn't have a cell phone. Of course, I made sure I had a landline or a payphone nearby.

    Lucky, most often than not, I've been "lucky" to have an office phone. A basic human right doesn't include owning or using a cell phone. Voting a basic human right? yes. Being able to speak your mind in the printed word or otherwise, yes.

    If we can define more realistically the premise of what "A basic human right is."

    To clarify this further please check this out: http://www.un.org/Overview/rights.html

    ReplyDelete

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