Four in five adults (79%) regard internet access as their fundamental right, according to a new global poll conducted across 26 countries for BBC World Service.
The poll of more than 27,000 adults conducted by GlobeScan found that 87 per cent of those who used the internet felt that internet access should be "the fundamental right of all people." More than seven in ten (71%) non-internet users also felt that they should have the right to access the web.
Countries where very high proportions regarded internet access as their fundamental right included South Korea (96%), Mexico (94%), and China (87%).
Most web users are very positive about the changes the internet has brought to their lives, with strong support for the information available, the greater freedom it brings and social networking. However there was caution about expressing opinions online and fraud.
Nearly four in five (78%) said they felt it had brought them greater freedom, nine in ten (90%) said they thought it was a good place to learn, and just over half (51%) said they now enjoyed spending their spare time on social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.
Despite this enthusiasm there is also concern, with many web users cautious about speaking their minds online. The poll found that they were evenly split between those who felt that "the internet is a safe place to express my opinions" (48%) and those who did not feel this (49%).
Japan was among the countries where most web users did not feel they could express their opinions safely online (65%), alongside South Korea (70%), France (69%), Germany (72%), and China (55%). In contrast, most Indians (70%), Ghanaians (74%), and Kenyans (73%) felt they could express their opinions safely.
The poll also showed that most internet users feel that the internet should not be regulated by governments. More than half (53%) of internet users agreed that "the internet should never be regulated by any level of government anywhere"?including large majorities in South Korea (83%), Nigeria (77%), and Mexico (72%). Forty-four per cent admitted that they did not think they could cope without the internet. Many more felt this way in Japan (84%), Mexico (81%), and Russia (71%), while fewer felt they could not cope without the internet in Pakistan (19%), the Philippines (21%), Turkey (27%), Brazil, and India (both 29%).
Asked what aspect of the internet they most valued, people most commonly identified the ability to find information of all sorts (47%), with its next most popular aspect being the ability to interact and communicate with people (32%). The internet?s roles as a source of entertainment (12%), as a tool to locate, research, and buy products and services (5%), and as a forum for creativity and sharing of content (3%) were less commonly mentioned as its most valuable aspect.
The poll also found that fraud was the aspect of the internet that caused people most concern, with 32 per cent saying it was what worried them most. Fraud emerged as a greater public concern than violent and explicit content, which was mentioned by 27 per cent, and threats to privacy, which were the major concern of one in five people (20%).
As BBC World Service reported last month, the poll also reveals that around one in three internet users across the countries polled regard the web as a good place to find a boyfriend or girlfriend.
The poll was commissioned for SuperPower, a major season throughout March on the BBC?s international news services: BBC World Service, BBC World News and BBC.com, exploring the extraordinary power of the internet.
The results are drawn from a survey of 27,973 adult citizens across 26 countries, including 14,306 internet users, conducted for BBC World Service by the international polling firm GlobeScan. GlobeScan coordinated fieldwork, involving telephone and in-person interviews, between 30 November 2009 and 7 February 2010.