Is access to the web a basic right – or a utility that people should have pumped into their homes?

That’s the debate raised today by Google vice president Vinton Cerf.

“There is a high bar for something to be considered a human right,” Cerf writes in an opinion piece in The New York Times.

According to a report on “Cerf calls it a ‘mistake’ to include any piece of technology as a human right, because “over time we will come to come to value the wrong things.’ He also argues that the exclusive category should be reserved for factors absolutely essential for human lives to flourish and have significance, offering as examples freedom of individual thought and freedom from torture. But, unlike those concepts, what guarantees them has the potential to change over time, Cerf says.”

Meanwhile in a blog at says that access to the web through a solid infrastructure is a need for the common good, on par with other necessary utilities, a so-called “4th utility: “The 4th utility identifies broadband access to the ‘net as a basic right of all citizens, with the same status as roads, water, and electricity.  All governments with a desire to have their nation survive and thrive in the next millennium will find a way to cooperate with network infrastructure providers to build out their national information infrastructure…”

For businesses and individuals, access to the web already seems like a necessity. You need it to enrich your education, connect with people you know and reach customers. How that is ensured and by whom is an argument that is still going on.