New Hampshire voters: Net neutrality? Huh?

Despite our best efforts to unearth tech-inclined voters, Net neutrality doesn't ring a bell with most residents we interviewed in the Granite State.

NASHUA, N.H.--New Hampshire residents are famously described as "gritty," "flinty," and, in a nod to last week's sub-zero temperatures here, "hardy."

Voters here are famously not described as tech-savvy. To be precise, they are famously not described as especially concerned with topics like Net neutrality and intellectual property rights that you, our dear readers, are.

At least that was our suspicion. In the last few days before Tuesday's primary, we set out to test that hypothesis by stopping New Hampshire-inians on the street and asking them questions about technology laws and regulation.

Mark Cancelada of Portsmouth, N.H.: John Edwards supporter who now has an e-mail address Declan McCullagh/News.com

We weren't disappointed. Nor, we're happy to report, did we get punched in the face for bothering those gritty, flinty, and hardy residents with questions about Net neutrality. What we did learn is that Granite State voters are not exactly preoccupied with political skirmishes over rewriting patent law, increasing H-1B visas, and, of course, the throughly pressing concern of broadband regulation.

"That means nothing to me," Mark Cancelada, 42, of Portsmouth, N.H., said when asked about Net neutrality, shortly after an early-morning John Edwards rally ended Saturday in the center of this quaint city of about 20,000 residents.

For Cancelada, what actually matters are what he calls "hot button" issues like health care, education and jobs. Even the obscure topic of prison reform is far more pressing to him than, say, worrying about Web sites being blocked by AT&T.

"Technology," shrugged the self-described Luddite, who admitted to obtaining an e-mail address only a year ago. "It's something I don't think much about."

Kayleen Stowell: Never heard of Net neutrality Anne Broache/CNET News.com

It also didn't matter much to Kayleen Stowell, 66, a Mitt Romney devotee who's made phone calls for the candidate and who has attended nearly all of his New Hampshire events.

"I think the Internet targets all the young people, but I think it leaves out the older people who don't even have a computer," the retired trucking company employee from Londonderry, N.H., said as she awaited Romney's approach at a breakfast meeting at Mary Ann's diner in Derry, N.H., on the eve of Tuesday's primary election.

Stowell did say she believes the Feds "absolutely" should find a way to keep Internet porn from children.

At a booth across the chrome-accented restaurant, Kelly Parsons, 32, cradled her infant son, Christian, and admitted she'd never heard of Net neutrality either. Parsons professed to be reasonably tech-savvy but said technology policy issues had nothing to do with her decision to support Mitt Romney. Illegal immigration and terrorism were among her top concerns for the next president to confront.

Kelly Parsons: Worried about illegal immigration and terrorism Anne Broache/CNET News.com

"He (Romney) has the resolve to deal with people who necessarily don't like us," she said as a waitress dropped off the check for breakfast with her two young children. "He cares about America, has values, has a family he loves."

Outside a Starbucks in Portsmouth, N.H., Ted Jankowski, 55, said he'd thrown his support behind Edwards because of the candidate's "detailed plan" for the future, not because of Net neutrality.

We found some outliers who do spend (at least some of) their evenings blogging about the arcana of copyright legislation and the Real ID Act.

Seth Cohn of Canterbury, N.H.: Ron Paul supporter deeply concerned with digital rights management legislation Declan McCullagh/News.com

One is Seth Cohn, 37, who recently moved to Canterbury, N.H. We caught up to him after a Ron Paul speech in Nashua, where he volunteered that Internet and technology policy issues are "really important" in his choice for the next president. " Net neutrality is almost certainly going to continue to be an issue," said Cohn, a Web developer who's been online for well over a decade and even has a Usenet newsgroup devoted to him (yes, it's alt.fan.seth-cohn).

"It's all part of a bigger picture for me," he added. "If they're going to regulate the Internet, they're going to take over free speech." Also high on his list of priority issues is how to handle copyright and digital rights management technology.

We offered to send him a link to this article when it's published, but Cohn said not to worry: he has his own Google News alert set up for precisely this kind of situation. They don't call Ron Paul the Internet's favorite candidate for nothing.

CNET News.com's Declan McCullagh contributed to this report

 

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