Wednesday, October 24, 2007 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Troubling poll regarding attitudes toward Net regulation

A new Zogby/463 Internet Attitudes poll finds that:

“More than half of Americans believe that Internet content such as video should be controlled in some way by the government. Twenty-nine percent said it should be regulated just like television content while 24% said government should institute an online rating system similar to the one used by the movie industry. In contrast, only 36% said the blocking of Internet video would be unconstitutional. The older you get, the more likely you are to support government restrictions. Only 33% of 18 to 24 year-olds supported government stepping in on content, while 72% of those over 70 years of age support government regulation and ratings.”

This is really troubling to me because almost all my public policy work is devoted to the proposition that the Internet should not be regulated like broadcasting and communications. As the Net continues to rapidly erode the legitimacy or practicality of traditional regulatory systems and institutions, it will increasingly prompt an obvious response from policymakers: We must grow regulation! We must expand the tentacles of the regulatory state to include all those new technologies of freedom! We cannot let people think and act for themselves!

But while we know that's how policymakers will respond as they see their traditional power over media and communications slipping away, it's always been less clear to me how average Americans will respond. Will they begin calling for the renewal and extension of the old regulatory standards to new technologies? This new poll suggests that many of them will. That's troubling because it reinforces what many policymakers want to do. And that's how we'll end up with a heavily regulated Internet (taxes, speech controls, Net neutrality regulations, etc, etc.).

As Tom Galvin, a partner with 463, notes: “Some view the Internet as their new best friend, others as an increasingly powerful tool that can infect our youth with harmful images and thoughts and therefore must be controlled. Our challenge as a society is to let the Internet flourish as a dynamic force in our economy and communities while not chipping away at the fundamental freedoms that created the Internet in the first place.”

Amen, brother.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 5:04 PM | Free Speech , Mass Media