Study Ranks U.S. 2nd in Internet Freedom

WASHINGTON — A recent report has ranked the U.S. second in the world in overall freedom on the Internet.

Web watchdog Freedom House released its Freedom on the Net 2011: A Global Assessment of Internet and Digital Media Freedom study that reports on digital media freedom in 37 countries around the world.

General observations of the study concluded that threats to Internet freedom in the form of cyber attacks are growing and have become more diverse.

And politically motivated censorship and government control over Internet infrastructure have also been tagged as prominent threats.

More focused elements of the study include areas such as obstacles to Internet access, limits on content and violations of users’ rights.

The U.S., with 78 percent Internet penetration ranked second overall in web freedom only behind Estonia and access is quite free compared to the rest of the world. Germany, Australia and the U.K. round out the top five respectively.

The report said the U.S. has no web 2.0 applications blocked, has no substantial political censorship and has a free press with no bloggers or online users arrested.

In addition, “statuatory immunity for ISPs continues to play an important role in fostering business models that permit open discourse and the free exchange of information,” the study said.

But the report did point out that online surveillance and privacy issues are being raised as the government tries to bolsters its broad surveillance powers in an effort to combat terrorism, child porn and other criminal activities.

And despite its free flow of content, business and ideas, the U.S. lags behind many major industrialized countries like Japan, South Korea, Sweden and Norway in broadband penetration with only 66 percent of U.S. adults using a high-speed connection, and 5 to 10 percent who live in rural areas don’t have access at all.

But the study said Congress instructed the Federal Communications Commission to create a National Broadband Plan that was initiated in March of last year that ensures broadband availability for all U.S. citizens.  Although the FCC doesn’t regulate the Internet or ISPs, it has claimed jurisdiction on issues such as network neutrality where all network providers must treat all content, websites and platforms equally when managing data traffic.

There is still some uncertainty however in the country’s strength and legal viability of recent network neutrality rules despite the FCC’s 2010 compromise ruling that instructs fixed-line service providers not to block access to or unreasonably discriminate against lawful websites, applications or devices.  But the rules for wireless broadband providers are much more limited, restricting only some types of blocking and avoiding the issue of discrimination.

Despite mediocre land-based broadband usage, Americans love their wireless mobile phones. According to the study, mobile listed a penetration rate of 91 percent – 38 percent of whom accessed the Internet as of mid-2010.

Concerning content restrictions, the study said that although the government doesn’t restrict political and social content, copyright violations, child porn, gambling and financial crime remain  on the government's radar as  "strong impetus for aggressive legislative and executive action."

"Partially free" countries in the study in order included Kenya, Mexico, South Korea, Geoergia, Nigeria, India, Malaysia, Jordan, Turkey, Indonesia, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Rwanda, Russia, Egypt, Zimbabwe, Kazakhstan and Pakistan.

And 11 countries were deemed “not free” including Thailand, Bahrain, Belarus, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Tunisia, China, Cuba, Burma and Iran.

The complete study can be found here.