Whither the Internet?

Last November, hundreds of government, industry leaders and internet activists from around the planet gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the second Internet Governance Forum. It was the one in a series of five annual meetings aimed at creating a global conversation about the future of the internet and perhaps recommendations to the United Nations and the World Summit on the Information Society about policies that might be developed to promote widespread public access to the internet and how the internet might be configured.

We invited attendees to complete an online survey about their views of the role of the internet around the world and how about how governments and other regulators should structure policy about the internet. Some 206 IGF attendees (15% of Forum participants) from 65 countries responded to the survey. The results of this convenience sample are not representative of all Forum participants or internet activists. Still, the diverse sample provides some interesting perspectives on policy preferences from around the world.

Among the most striking findings is that respondents indicated strong support for the establishment of a global internet users Bill of Rights. Some 66% of those participating in this survey agreed with the statement: "A global internet Bill of Rights should be adopted." Only 6% disagreed.

Some key planks of the Bill of Rights would be: freedom of information, freedom of expression, and the right of people to have affordable access. Some 76% of respondents supported freedom of information as a core ethic of online life and 75% agreed that such a policy ensuring freedom of expression on the internet should be adopted.

On the other side of the issue, 62% of respondents said they believe content controls weaken the internet. And by a 59%-28% margin, they disagreed with the statement, "My country should have the right to approve the internet content available to the people of my country." Even more disagreed (63%) that a commercial internet service provider should have the right to control content. The survey participants also felt that even if some entity tried to control content on the internet, it would not be terribly successful. Some 47% agreed and 34% disagreed with the following assertion: "Policies that regulate content on the internet are not enforceable because of the borderless nature of the internet."

Read the full report Whither the Internet? on the Pew Internet & American Life Project Web site.

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