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Who should oversee the Internet? How about Oprah?

By Richard Stenger

(CNN) -- Asked to create a hypothetical governing board for the World Wide Web, respondents to a survey came up with an interesting assortment of personalities, including Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and Pope John Paul II.

Perhaps the aging pontiff brandishes his mouse with as much gusto as young Web surfers. According to the new report, there is little change based on age in favorable ratings for the Web.

In fact, the high approval rating among those ages 65 and older was the same as those 18 to 29, once the report controlled for online use.

"When it comes to the Internet, familiarity breeds contentment, even for older Internet users, even for (those) who are going online for the first time much later in life," reads the Markle Foundation report. "The notion that the Internet is a medium for the young is wrong."

CNN's Ann Kellan has high points from the survey on Americans' impressions of the Internet (July 10)

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CNN's Brian Cabell reports on Internet privacy issues in the U.S. (July 10)

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CNN Access: Zoe Baird discusses public attitudes towards the Internet  

Message Board: Overseeing the Internet  
 What Web users think
  • Those 65 and older give same favorable ratings as those 18 to 29

  • 79 percent think the Internet makes their lives easier

  • 70 percent said they should question most of what they read online

  • 64 percent said the government should make laws to protect Web users

  • 59 percent don't know whom to contact with Internet problems

  • 53 percent of GOP Internet users favor taxation for online commerce

  • 49 percent see the Internet as 'impossible to govern'

  • 48 percent agree that the Internet 'will always be a risky place'

  • Source: Markle Foundation's "Toward a Framework for Internet Accountability"

    The survey, which examined questions about Internet governance and accountability, polled more than 2,000 laypersons and experts by telephone and via the Internet in 2000 and 2001.

    It shows that 63 percent of people in the United States used the Internet at least once, and many are "extremely enthusiastic" about it as a tool. But there are also strong concerns among those surveyed about privacy, pornography, and fraud.

    A majority of respondents said they viewed the vast electronic network as "impossible to govern" and thought it should be subject to some form of oversight. Most considered non-profit organizations and private corporations better suited for the job than government agencies.

    "The public said that when it comes to protecting them online that they do believe government has to be more involved and play a strong role," the organization's president ZoŽ Baird told CNN. "But they generally want the rules made by business and nonprofits. So what we took from this survey is the public doesn't see this as a black and white issue."

    Report: Most favor Web taxes

    But 60 percent said they did not mind if government involvement extended to taxation, the report said. Even many of those who might be expected to oppose online taxes actually favor them, for example, 53 percent of Republican Internet users and 60 percent of Internet users with incomes of $100,000 or more.

    "The downturn in the dot-com economy in recent months has not significantly changed the balance of public opinion on this question," reads the Markle report.

    While 83 percent of those who tap into the Web give it favorable ratings, many harbor concerns about privacy and accountability.

    Just 23 percent of those surveyed said they could trust most of the things they read online; while 70 percent said "you have to question the truthfulness of most things you read on the Internet."

    Almost 80 percent of users said the Internet made their lives easier. Most considered it as a kind of library rather than a shopping mall or banking office, when asked to select the most accurate metaphor for the Internet.

    When asked, "In your opinion, which one of the following is the Internet most like?"

    Forty-five percent of those surveyed said "library," 15 percent said "highway," 14 percent said "shopping mall," 8 percent answered "Wild West," 7 percent said "school," and 3 percent each compared the online experience to a "town hall" or a bank.""

    Based in New York, the non-profit Markle Foundation promotes emerging communications media and information technology.

    Baird, the Markle Foundation president, failed in a bid to become U.S. attorney general in 1993 amid revelations that she had hired an illegal immigrant nanny without paying taxes.

    • Markle Foundation

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