By Alex Tcherkassky, Reporter, BroadbandCensus.com; and Andrew Feinberg, Deputy Editor, BroadbandCensus.com
WASHINGTON, June 8, 2009 – Despite the Internet's growing importance to the American economy, a new poll released Monday shows more Americans are concerned with content regulation than the ramifications of ignoring the digital divide.
The poll was conducted by Zogby463, a new partnership between polling firm Zogby International and 463 Communications, a public relations company representing high-tech companies.
Nearly six in 10 respondents believe internet video sites like YouTube required some form of regulation, but the group split almost evenly on whether that system should be more like the Federal Communications Commission’s regulation of broadcast television, or the self-imposed rating system devised by the Motion Picture Association of America. Just over 30 percent said they believed any regulation of internet video would be unconstitutional.
Broken down along party lines, 34 percent of Republicans oppose any kind of regulation, while 36 percent of Democrats prefer the voluntary ratings used by the film industry. Self-identified independents are even more strongly against regulation, with 41 percent opposing any ratings at all. But independents supporting content ratings are fairly evenly divided, with 29% favoring the movie system and 25% favoring the television system.
Although the data showed Democrats more amenable to internet content regulation of some sort, former Democratic strategist turned Silicon Valley entrepreneur Donnie Fowler suggested added that regulating internet content, much less enforcing any regulations, would be extremely difficult.
But technology has changed the power balance between parents and children when it comes to content consumption, said former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie. Gillespie recalled how his parents were able to monitor his television viewing on the single television in their living room, the private nature of laptops and internet-enabled mobile devices necessitates some sort of regulation, he said.
Only two percent of respondents said bridging the so-called "digital divide" ensuring internet access for all Americans was the most important issue for the technology industry. Improving energy efficiency, education, and health care issues regularly touted as best addressed by digital literacy and more widespread internet access all beat out accessibility as a top concern for Americans.
Zogby attributed the apparent inconsistency to the poll question itself. Other polls conducted by his company found that Americans care deeply about access to technology, he said. The specific nature of the other answers made it more likely that respondents would select them over the more generic digital divide issue, leading to the a result that could be misinterpreted, Zogby said.