Survey says US public doesn't support Internet regulation

Net neutrality supporters question the results of the survey from Broadband for America

Fifty-seven percent of likely voters in the U.S. don't support any Internet regulation by the federal government, according to a new survey released by Broadband for America, an advocacy group with members including AT&T and Verizon Communications.

AT&T and other groups opposed to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's ongoing effort to enact network neutrality rules pointed to the survey as evidence that the agency should not proceed with rules prohibiting broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic.

The Broadband for America poll didn't specifically mention the words "net neutrality," although it did ask a question about the "open Internet."

The poll asked if respondents thought the best way to ensure an open Internet is to "continue the current approach that has brought us the Internet we have today," through competition, not increased regulation. As an alternative, the poll asked if respondents preferred "additional government rules and oversight in place to ensure that Internet service providers are acting in the best interests of consumers" and not discriminating against Web content and competing services.

Sixty-three percent of respondents said they preferred the "current approach," while 30 per cent said they wanted additional government rules.

The survey, of 800 likely voters, also found that 76 per cent of respondents agreed that the Internet is currently working very or fairly well, Broadband for America said.

Of the 31 per cent of respondents who thought the government should regulate the Internet, more than two-thirds said the regulations should be focused on privacy, online safety and protecting children, Broadband for America said.

Net neutrality advocates questioned the poll, and suggested that survey respondents may not have equated net neutrality to Internet regulation. Net neutrality advocates have protested efforts to equate the two, saying net neutrality would create new rules for broadband providers, but would not regulate Internet content.

"Nobody is talking about the government regulating the Internet," said Art Brodsky, communications director for Public Knowledge, a digital rights group and net neutrality backer. "I haven't seen the poll questions, but the release was very misleading."

Derek Turner, research director at Free Press, another net neutrality supporter, called the survey an "industry-funded poll."

"The Internet is indeed working today, and that's because net neutrality is the current status quo," he said. "Keeping network operators from implementing their draconian plans to pick winners and losers online is critical to the 'Net's continued success. Other polls have shown that Americans are also overwhelmingly opposed to letting ISPs [Internet service providers] decide what content should receive priority treatment, and that's what this debate is all about."

The survey supports Broadband for America's mission, the group said in a statement. "We believe broadband access should be available and affordable for every household in the nation," it said. "These findings support our belief that the Internet should be open and secure."

The survey supports AT&T's view that the FCC should not create new net neutrality rules, said Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs.

"This poll demonstrates once again what most everyone involved with the net neutrality issue already knows -- that despite the fear-mongering of a few fringe groups, the American people overwhelmingly reject the idea of government regulation in the Internet space," Cicconi said in a statement. "Tellingly, even the few who do want more government oversight are worried about very different things -- identity theft, pornography, spam and malware. The rest, by huge margins, feel the Internet is working well and reject government involvement."

Public opinion is "so clearly stacked" against proponents of net neutrality rules, he added.

Net neutrality advocates have called on the FCC to pass formal net neutrality rules after a U.S. appeals court, earlier this year, threw out an attempt by the agency to enforce informal principles in place since 2005. In that case, the FCC prohibited Comcast from slowing some peer-to-peer traffic, but the court ruled that the agency had overreached its authority.

Meanwhile, several musicians and the Writers Guild of America East sent a letter to the FCC this week, urging the agency to move forward with net neutrality rules. MoveOn.org, a liberal advocacy group and net neutrality supporter, released the letter.

"Due to the open structures of the Internet, musicians and other creators and innovators can compete on an equal technological playing field with the biggest companies," said the letter, signed by R.E.M., The Roots, Bonnie Raitt and other artists. "The result is a blossoming and legitimate marketplace that compensates creators while rewarding fans with access to an incredible array of music."

The letter urged the FCC to "act immediately to ensure that the Internet is kept free and open."

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

Tags R.E.M.Derek TurnerJim Cicconitelecommunicationfree pressregulationBonnie RaittArt BrodskylegislationbroadbandPublic KnowledgeVerizon CommunicationsMoveOn.orgat&tgovernment

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Grant Gross

IDG News Service

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