Internet access is fast becoming an essential utility for people all over the world. It’s great to be able to check e-mail or chat with friends, but having the ability to view news reports or research different topics is what makes us grow every day. There are also considerations such as data access for cell phone calls, which is often one of the few methods remote cities can use to contact the rest of the world.
Unfortunately, not all internet access is created equal. Various factors shape the way people access the internet in different countries, the largest usually being government and corporate level interests. Depending on where you live, net neutrality is not a guarantee.
We have rounded up some of the best and worst countries with free internet access for internet freedom below so that you know where you are safe and where you need to take extra privacy precautions.
What is Free and Open Internet?
The Internet started out as a free and open system. “Free” in this context means unrestricted, while “open” denotes a lack of restraint or control. Having both means that anyone can log in, view any website they want and download any file they want, all without third-party interference.
Best Countries With Free Internet Access (Internet Freedom)
The good news is that not every government is interested in controlling its people. Open access to the internet has been guaranteed in a number of countries, often extending to prohibit the above subversive control methods. Here are the 5 best countries with free internet access:
Iceland is consistently ranked as one of the best countries for free internet. Over 75% of homes in Iceland have direct access to fiber internet. Censorship is also prohibited by the country’s constitution, and the only type of web filtering local ISPs perform is blocking child pornography, which is mostly done on a case-by-case basis as reported by decency organizations.
Estonia ranks right behind Iceland as one of the best countries for open internet access. This eastern European country has embraced the digital world with more than 75% of its citizens connected to the internet. Censorship and freedom of expression are both protected by the country’s constitution. The government has a list of 800 sites blocked by local ISPs, most of which are related to gambling sites that are expressly prohibited by state laws.
Nearly 90% of Canada’s population is connected to the internet, with Canadians themselves spending more time online than anyone else in the world. The issue of neutrality has been debated for years, mostly centered around the throttling and preferential package treatment used by some of the province’s telecoms. Following the lifting of net neutrality in its southern neighbor, the Canadian government reaffirmed its commitment to keeping the internet open to everyone.
Wireless broadband is king in Australia, with reports that 96-99% of its citizens receive slow but functioning service across the country, even in rural areas. These efforts are coupled with anti-censorship laws designed to prevent children from accessing illegal or pornographic content. The Australian Government does not provide explicit freedom of expression protections, but has shown general respect for the practice even in extreme situations.
5. United States of America
Even with the repeal of the 2017 internet neutrality law, citizens in the US enjoy a very open online experience. Most site-blocking efforts are handled on a state-by-state level, with content such as remote gambling overseas and child pornography often on a restricted list. Government level surveillance and censorship is also low compared to other areas. All of this could change in the coming years, but in 2017, the US was in the top ten countries for internet freedom.
Worst Country for Internet Freedom
Free and open internet access is not a worldwide phenomenon. The countries below have been ranked as the most restrictive places to use the web. They are involved in everything from censorship to site blocking, traffic throttling, search result shaping, surveillance, and more.
If you live or visit any of the countries below, use a VPN and be careful what you look for. If you are using an Android phone, then use a VPN app for Android. If you are using chrome, then use a VPN extension for Chrome.
As much as 15% of Ethiopia’s population has access to the internet, and those who do are under intense scrutiny. Censorship is widespread within national borders, especially when it comes to political content that goes against the ruling class of government. VoIP connections such as Skype are blocked, forcing local residents to use expensive domestic telecommunications software monitored by the government.
Internet access in Cuba is sparse, unreliable, expensive, and heavily censored. It is illegal for private homes to have their own connections, forcing citizens to use government-owned internet cafes to go online, which is restricted to simple email services, not access to the rest of the world. Cubans must provide their name and address to use this connection, and if they type in the words political dissent, a pop-up will appear blocking their access “for reasons of national security”. Material intended for online publication must also be government-approved and strictly censored beforehand.
China is famous for its Great Firewall, a government-level censorship filter placed on the country’s internet that prevents anyone from searching for “unpleasant” content. The government decides what is inappropriate, and as you can guess, this is mostly related to anti-government sentiments, foreign news sites, social media publications, and other world material. More than 18,000 websites are specifically blocked from the mainland, forcing citizens to use the few VPNs that still work at home to access anything of value outside of China.
Before the Syrian civil war, internet access in Syria generally moved towards more freedom for the people. However, after that, the Syrian Ministry of Communications locked down access with some of the strictest measures in the world, even shutting down the internet completely for a period of time. Censorship is one of the biggest blockades in Syria. Within the country, you are not allowed to access controversial political or social content without being harassed or arrested by the local government. VoIP is blocked entirely, and even internet cafes are required to keep records of their users’ browsing habits.
Iran is the second country in the Middle East to join the internet revolution. Nearly 62% of urban households have access to the web, but the connections they enjoy are arguably the most limited in the world. Speed throttling is common, as are bandwidth limitations. Any objectionable political content is closely monitored or removed entirely, and anyone accessing the web is monitored through covert surveillance efforts. All data also undergoes deep packet checking, which bypasses most encryption methods such as VPNs.
Regaining Internet Freedom with a VPN
No matter which country you live in, chances are that you can use a VPN to restore some of your online access. A VPN helps anonymize your connection and break through the censorship barrier by using a complex encryption algorithm that wraps every data packet in an unbreakable code. This makes it difficult for the government to see what you are doing or where you are, allowing open access to the internet without fear of being watched or tracked.
The downside is that many of the worst countries for internet freedom actively block VPNs from completely web access. The list of prohibited service opportunities is also regular, which means you can never be sure which VPN is good and which one is blocked.
There are thousands of VPNs to choose from, some of which are better than others. To help you choose the best, we have compiled some of the most important criteria below. Place this on top of your research list to make sure your VPN is the right one for the job.
Jurisdiction – Where a VPN company is registered has a huge influence on how private that company really is. Choose a VPN related to the best internet freedom countries above to increase privacy.
Kill switch and DNS leak protection – These two features help prevent accidental disclosure of identity.
Logging policy – VPNs can store traffic data, which can fall into the wrong hands. To ensure true privacy, always choose a VPN with a zero-logging policy.
Server choice – The more servers a VPN has, the better your choice for non-local connections.
Those are some of the best and worst countries for free internet access. Hopefully this article is useful for you, thank you for visiting and don’t forget to share it with your friends too.