Access to the Internet should be recognized as a "basic human right," and more needs to be done to ensure that access isn't threatened by online traffic discrimination, censorship, spying or abuse of women and other marginalized groups, according to Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee. He made those remarks upon launching the World Wide Web Foundation's 2014-15 Web Index report on the Internet and its impacts on society, the economy and politics.
Established by Berners-Lee, the foundation has published its Web Index annually since 2012. This year's report finds that the Internet is becoming less free and more unequal for those who can access it. It also notes that the majority of people on Earth -- 4.3 billion, or 60 percent of the global population -- cannot yet get online at all.
"We can't take the equalising power of the Internet for granted," the report's executive summary says. "Current trends suggest that we now stand at a crossroads between a Web 'for everyone,' which strengthens democracy and creates equal opportunity for all, or a 'winner takes all' Web that further concentrates economic and political power in the hands of a few."
Denmark Tops the List
The 2014-15 Web Index ranks 86 countries according to four key characteristics: infrastructure and education that supports universal access to the Internet; online privacy and freedom of expression; availability of content that is relevant to users in languages and platforms they can understand; and empowerment, which assesses how the Web can help users foster positive changes in society, the economy, politics and the environment.
The top 10 countries with the greatest overall scores in those areas are 1) Denmark, 2) Finland, 3) Norway, 4) the UK/Northern Ireland, 5) Sweden, 6) the U.S., 7) Iceland, 8) South Korea, 9) the Netherlands, and 10) Belgium. The lowest-ranked countries included 77) Benin, 78) Mozambique, 79) Burkina Faso, 80) Sierra Leone, 81) Haiti, 82) Mali, 83) Cameroon, 84) Yemen, 85) Myanmar and 86) Ethiopia.
On a scale of 0 to 100, the U.S. ranked 75.83 in universal access, 81.04 in freedom and openness, 98.32 in relevant content and 99.81 in empowerment.
"As the global economy becomes more digitally driven, countries' ability to harness the Web for the common good may also start to influence how equal or unequal, as well as how rich or poor, they become," the report said. "Nordic policy-makers have been quick to adopt and promote the free Internet -- and open access to information -- as a 21st century public good. Others, as this year's findings show, need to move fast to catch up."
Guarantee 'Affordable Access for All'
"It's time to recognize the Internet as a basic human right," Berners-Lee said upon the index's launch. "That means guaranteeing affordable access for all, ensuring Internet packets are delivered without commercial or political discrimination, and protecting the privacy and freedom of Web users regardless of where they live."
Berners-Lee has been a vocal advocate for Net neutrality, and has criticized such Internet-affecting legislation as Europe's "right to be forgotten," which requires search engines to screen out results to content that people and organizations don't want publicized. He has also called former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden a "hero" for publicly leaking information about U.S. and UK surveillance of Internet and cellphone traffic.
Upon releasing its report, the World Wide Web Foundation also urged global policy-makers to take action to ensure the Internet's value and protect people's rights and privacy. Among its recommendations are speeding up progress toward universal access to the Web; preventing price discrimination in Internet traffic; investing in high-quality public education for all, protecting freedoms of speech, association and privacy; and investing more in technology to create greater opportunities for women, poor people and other marginalized groups.