What Accounts for Sudden Public Opposition to Internet Regulation?

by on April 9, 2010 · 11 comments

I don’t place a lot of stock in polls… until they confirm what I have long believed, that is! According to this new poll by Rasmussen Reports, 53% of Americans oppose FCC regulation of the Internet. Specifically, in response to the question, “Should the Federal Communications Commission regulate the Internet like it does radio and television?” the breakdown was: 27% =Yes, 53% = No, 19% = Not sure.

But here’s what is more interesting. The 27% of “yes” votes represents a stunning 22-point drop in support for federal regulation of the Internet since a June 2008 poll by Rasmussen, which asked the exact same question. Now, what has changed since 2008 that might have led to such rapidly declining support for Net regulation? Could it have had something to do with the FCC’s ambitious plan to centrally plan broadband markets via its 376-page National Broadband Plan? Or its incessant crusade to impose burdensome Net neutrality regulations, which could decimate investment and innovation?

No, I think what really must be to blame for this sudden public uprising against the FCC was Chairman Julius Genachowski’s alliance with the evil Elmo. People have had enough of the little red demon. That’s my theory and I’m stickin’ to it.  I mean, after all, from what my friends on the Left tell me, the American people are just dying to get Net neutrality regulations on the books and have a massive infusion of taxpayer support for Soviet-style broadband plans and media bailouts.  So clearly those things just can’t be driving this sudden public skepticism about the FCC, right?  It must be Elmo.

Public Wants Less Net Regulation

  • larrydownes

    Notwithstanding the change from 2008, the question does seem oddly phrased and even inflammatory. The “like it does radio and television” isn't really helpful–I mean yes, there are proposals that look like content regulation and scarcity management, but I would have thought the more natural comparison would have been to regulate “like it does the telephone network.” That too seems inflammatory but more accurate given what's been proposed.

    Just a guess, but what's happened between 2008 and 2010 is that the regulation of radio and television seems more archaic and arbitrary than ever. Howard Stern moved to satellite in 2006 where he was out of the FCC's clutches; free both to do what he wanted and to mock the Commissioners from on-high. That and the continued (expanded!) fines for the most innocuous breaches of the indecency rules. The more consumers shift to unregulated cable content, the more they become used to the odd swear word or brief nudity. And the more they leave behind the broadcasters, the weirder it seems that only they must live up to Victorian standards.

  • Brett Glass

    During the past few years, the quality of radio and television programming has deteriorated — with radio largely the province of extreme talk show loonies and television appealing only to the lowest common denominator and containing as much as 20 minutes of advertising per hour. And then, of course, there was Janet Jackson and “Nipplegate,” which has reduced even the previously spectactular Super Bowl half time show to lameness. Viewers have therefore fled to the Internet — and the very notion of the same phenomena following them to a new medium evokes revulsion.

    So, yes, the phrase “like it does radio and television” would indeed produce a strong reaction. But that reaction may not have much to do with “network neutrality” regulation. Had the poll asked, “Should the FCC insist that the kid down the street downloading illegal music and movies be able to slow down your Internet or raise the amount you have to pay for Internet service?” the results would more obviously indicate dislike of such regulations.

  • flawedskull

    Its simple Adam. Three words – Health Care Reform

  • http://bennett.com/blog Richard Bennett

    The wording of the Rasmussen question does seem a bit hinkey — “Should the FCC regulate the Internet the same way it does radio and TV” — but the same wording was used in 2008 with a very different answer. I guess this means Congress isn't going to step into the fray and bail out the FCC this year.

    The idea of applying healthcare reform logic to the Internet is interesting, however. If Congress wants to reform ISP practices, they can begin by making broadband subscription mandatory, thereby increasing American broadband participation to 96% and raising us to number 1 in the international rankings.

    Mission accomplished.

  • Brett Glass

    Unfortunately, given Google's influence in DC these days, the administration might also insist that you buy your broadband from Google.

  • BarnE

    Although I wasn't a poll participant (as far as I know), my vote has changed to the negative as well. Let the less-than-ideal market go, come what may.

    The best thing ordinary consumers have going for them is that a good number of them have had the taste of a mostly “open” internet, and they won't take any change well. If worse comes to worse, and something happens like Google won't allow searches from Comcast customers because Comcast wants money from Google to allow youtube through, then at least I will have something to tell my grandkids about.

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    Evaluating poles is tricky.

    The word “regulation” automatically conveys the image of an action that will deprive someone of their ability to be free or to freely use a product/service. Naturally, people are likely to automatically answer “No”.

    flawedskull has a point, it is not health care reform itself, but the backroom deals and the obvious disrespect the politicians displayed to the American public in passing this legislation. Also given the fundamental distrust that some Americans have for the government, it naturally follows that Americans are suspicious of the real intent of many regulations. (Besides health care, the Obama administration is seeking “foreclosure assistance”. Many people commenting on the proposed assistance have rightfully noted that it is fundamentally unfair to those who were responsible and rewards those who were financially irresponsible. So, in the light of these unfair proposals that diminish the credibility of regulation, the public dislike of FCC being given the right to regulate may be dead-on-arrival through guilt by association.)

    The Rasmussen Pole headline screams 53% oppose FCC Regulation. This is a complex topic. Also, it is my belief, that many people do not really comprehend what net-neutrality really means.

    For example, the Rasmussen pole notes: “Personal blogsites are becoming increasingly more common on the Internet, but just 11% of Americans believe that the government should regulate their content.” This is a typical case of deprivation regulation and would be an a type of regulation that should be opposed. So in this situation the pole, does not seem to be skewed.

    However the Rasmussen pole also notes: “Thirty-four percent (34%) of Americans think Internet providers should be able to slow down the downloading of large amounts of material so other customers are not effected. “. This pole however fails to delve into reasons for why regulation may actually be needed to protect the public's ability to freely use the internet. Also it appears skewed since it promotes the motherhood concept of sharing. We can't have evil regulations denying equitable sharing!

    Of course, I need to clearly state that when there are legitimate engineering reasons for “traffic management” then it would be acceptable for the ISP to intervene to slow down the downloading of files. What is missing from the pole concerning the role of FCC regulation is whether you can trust the ISPs to actually act ethically without FCC regulation. Furthermore, were those questioned aware that the ISP, if not regulated, would have a carte blanche capability to manipulate/inspect your data stream as they see fit? For example, the pole could have asked the question “Should the FCC intervene protect you right to connect and deliver files unimpeded to any other person on the internet?” I suspect that if this question had been asked that it would have received a fairly large “Yes” response. Few people seem to be aware of this concern and its implications; and because of that gave an essentially automatic “vote” against the concept of FCC regulation.

  • morgan

    Perhaps nothing. People should keep in mind who is funding these polls. I believe the one you've cited here has been implicated as being funded in part through subsidiaries of Comcast. It's my belief that people are still for net neutrality, in the same way that the Supreme Court has been on the forefront of progressiveness, as noted in this post I found on another blog:http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2010/04/08/the-last-100-years-of-the-supreme-court/

  • alcinasalls

    Internet is loved by everyone and this is the only reason why the world is in the growing stage, now there are most of the business contracts which are done online, and this is the only reason for the better future.

  • alcinasalls

    Internet is loved by everyone and this is the only reason why the world is in the growing stage, now there are most of the business contracts which are done online, and this is the only reason for the better future.

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