According to a new Report from Forrester Research, Inc. (Nasdaq: FORR), the casual online governance of the past will give way to highly politicized policy battles as powerful financial interests, issue groups, and impassioned voters weigh in on the debate about the future of the Internet economy. Due to the exploding volume of online commerce, the increasing magnitude of change brought on by innovative Net business models, and the integral role of the Internet in daily life, the stakes have become too high to leave Internet decisions outside the democratic process. In spite of this call for regulation, none of the leading four presidential candidates has addressed the Net.

“Although the Internet has become a staple of modern life, businesses and consumers will look to government to guarantee a secure online experience,” said John C. McCarthy, group director of Internet Policy & Regulation Research. “Consumers need to feel comfortable and protected before shopping online, and companies desire guidance as they modify business models or invest in Web-based technologies.”

After analyzing the Internet economy, Forrester believes calls for the government to intervene will be divided into two distinct categories: rules for how the virtual world will operate and efforts to manage Net-driven change in the physical world. Several of the most high-profile fights over the Internet involve the rules for eBusiness — including access, privacy and security, new eCommerce regulation, and sovereignty — must be resolved if the Internet is to live up to its promise of serving billions. The second wave of controversies will focus not on how the Internet operates but on the entities affected by the Internet economy, including existing industry regulation, taxation, free speech, education, and government.

“With Internet policy issues set to proliferate over the next presidential term, it is more important than ever that the next president gets the Net,” added McCarthy.

Forrester graded the four leading presidential candidates on the following three criteria: the completeness of their campaigns based on Internet issues, technology track record, and their technology advisers. Al Gore led the pack, with a strong involvement in technology policy. While his track record has been stellar and his advising circle strong, he did not score well on several looming policy issues. John McCain came in second with solid experience as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, enabling him to deal with key technology issues, and with a few exceptions he has taken clear and prominent stands on the nine issue areas.

George W. Bush’s most complete positions were in education, taxation, and eGovernment, but he has had little to say on eCommerce regulation, which landed him third place. As governor, Bush did not have the opportunity to be involved with technology policymaking at the national level, although he has brought in an impressive slate of technology advisers. Bill Bradley came in last, remaining largely unknown on technology policy. Bradley took clear positions on the digital divide, education, free speech, and taxation, but his positions were weak in the other five areas. He never engaged deeply with technology issues, and his list of technology advisers was not publicly available.

For “Net Policy And The Candidates” Forrester interviewed 38 people, including heads of public policy at leading technology firms, as well as members of governmental organizations, political Web sites, leading thinkers on Internet policy, and the technology advisers of the presidential candidates.

About Forrester’s Internet Policy & Regulation Research
To track the intersection of the Internet economy and public policy, Forrester Research recently launched its newest lens, Internet Policy & Regulation Research. This lens will analyze government’s role in the development of the Internet economy and the impact of technology on government administration and electoral politics.