"WiFi," Maryland governor and (vice) presidential candidate Martin O'Malley (D) told CNN, "is a human right." He was putting those words into the mouths of the nebulous group known as "young people," but it's clear that O'Malley agrees with the sentiment.
Before we analyze O'Malley's own record on this core human right, we'll note that his claim is not without precedent. Following the Arab Spring in 2011, the United Nations declared that Internet access was a human right, demanding that countries "ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest." That's not WiFi, of course, but there has been an Internet joke going around that addresses wireless access specifically. Here's one iteration; its original creator, like that of Ozymandias's statue, is lost to time.
Maslow's revised hierarchy of human needs. pic.twitter.com/rQ2xRQtIRN
— Dr Phil Hammond (@drphilhammond) May 13, 2014
But back to O'Malley. If the governor believes that WiFi is a human right or, being generous in our reading of that statement, that Internet writ large is, how does his state do in providing said access?
Happily, the Census Bureau has since 1997 collected data on Internet use by state. As of 2012, the last year for which data is available, some 5.6 million Marylanders had Internet access -- meaning that nearly 300,000 people didn't. (The Census Bureau only looks at those ages 3 and up, so maybe there are just a lot of babies.)
Compared to the rest of the United States, though, Maryland is doing okay. A look at Internet growth (in terms of number of people who are connected versus 2009) shows Maryland outpacing the country on the whole, and outpacing most other states.
But that's not WiFi. Evaluating WiFi alone is tricky, but we assume that O'Malley means publicly accessible WiFi, the sort of thing he championed even back when he was mayor of Baltimore. The Census Bureau collects data on people who have Internet in their homes and on people who have Internet access elsewhere. That latter figure would include people with access to a public WiFi hotspot, so we pulled that number out versus the national picture.
The good news? Since 2009, the state of Maryland has continued to have broader Internet access at home than the rest of the country, though that access grew more slowly. But for Internet access outside the Maryland home, that expanded more quickly than the nation on the whole.
While there are likely still tens of thousands of Marylanders who lack even the basic human right of Internet access (and who, we will note with sarcastic suspicion, are unable to speak out during times of political unrest), the state is at least making progress in addressing the problem. Whether or not the people without the basic human right of WiFi will prove to be the "soccer moms" of 2016 only time will tell.