In 2014, Tim Berners-Lee, known best for creating the World Wide Web, proposed that the Internet is a human right. While not everyone agrees, it’s hard to deny that it plays an increasingly central role in almost all of our lives. Ensuring equal access can be an important step toward guaranteeing economic, social, and political equality. That’s all the more reason to celebrate the arrival of 3G wireless networks to Palestinians, who live, as the AP explains, in “one of the last places in the world without mobile broadband services.”
The AP’s Mohammed Daraghmeh and Daniella Cheslow report, “Under interim peace accords, Israel controls Palestinian wireless networks in the West Bank.” As Al Jazeera’s Samuel Nelson Gilbert wrote in 2013, the Oslo accords—signed in the mid-’90s—also “cover Palestinians' right to faster communications.” Nevertheless, for years, Israeli authorities have limited the region to 2G connectivity, making it difficult for residents to utilize GPS services and other applications that require rapid data transfer. According to a 2012 World Bank report, this has restrained Palestinians’ economic development.
Daraghmeh and Cheslow write that this development comes after “years of delays.” Notably, it arrives on the heels of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent meeting with President Obama. And as the Jerusalem Post adds, it also comes in advance of Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Israel. Daraghmeh and Cheslow suggest that this decision derives from an attempt to ease tensions in the region. Nevertheless, as they note in passing, Israel still declines to “extend 3G frequencies to the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas.”
Why did it take the Israeli government so long to make these changes? Where some suggest that it was a product of technical complications, others propose that profit motives drove the delay. According to the AP, one former Palestinian communications minister “believes Israeli carriers were behind the ban, trying to protect their interest in the captive Palestinian market.” Previously, Palestinians who needed faster mobile Internet were obliged to use Israeli carriers, resulting in inconsistent and unreliable coverage.
Whatever the case, a definite date for these changes is not yet clear, but the Jerusalem Post writes that they’re “expected to go into effect in mid- 2016.”