Those who advocate regulating Internet service providers as common carriers subject to “open access” mandates (a/k/a “Net Neutrality”) want us to believe that their cause is the “Civil Rights” issue of the digital age, with huge popular support and opposed only by self-interested cable companies and their henchmen. In fact, such regulations would actually harm consumers, increase broadband prices, retard the heretofore-explosive growth of bandwidth, and dramatically increase government control over the Internet. Of course, the degree of public interest in a cause doesn’t actually tell us anything about its justice and, fortunately, we live in a democratic oligarchic republic, not a pure democracy. But it’s worth asking whether Americans are really up in arms about the need for “Net Neutrality” regulations. Google Trends suggests not:
This kind of comparison should dispel once and for all the myth of a popular groundswell for net neutrality regulation—especially since online search volumes heavily over-represent the interests of the digerati, thus over-stating general interest in web-related topics.
In fact, “Net Neutrality” regulation is a niche cause trumpeted incessantly by the blogosphere with about the same level of broad popular interest online as “housing rights”—a topic about which most of us probably don’t often fall into conversation (unless we happen to live in Bakuninist Berkeley or the Bolivarian Caliphate of Cambridge, MA, ground-zero of American Chavismo). “Net neutrality” currently seems to attract about the same level of interest as the term “end the Fed,” the title of Rep. Ron Paul’s call for abolishing America’s central bank—something I’ve been ranting about for years but which, until recently, most people found about as bizarre and irrelevant as my (sincere) insistence that President Jefferson should have obtained a constitutional amendment rather than simply assuming the power to execute the Louisiana Purchase.
So just how much do Americans care about Net Neutrality? About 83% as much as they care about “kibble,” which usually refers to the ground meat used in dog food and other forms of animal feed—but about fifty times less than about “dog food.”
Finally, since we all write a lot about privacy, “online privacy” gets 1% as many searches as “privacy.” “Internet privacy” and “privacy Internet” each get about 4% as many searches as “privacy,” for a total of about 9% as many searches as “privacy” or about three times as many searches as “net neutrality.” Americans seem to be far more concerned about “identity theft,” which gets 30% as many searches as “privacy”—or 3.33 times more than the three online-privacy terms mentioned above. This is consistent with Tom Leonard and Paul Rubin’s findings that identity theft, not online data collection for advertising purposes, is the real harm facing consumers, and regulating online data collection and use in the name of “protecting privacy” isn’t likely to benefit consumers, while the costs to consumers from such regulations are likely to be significant, as Adam Thierer and I have noted here, here, here, here and here.