Discussing the idea of free online content is decidedly tricky unless given context. Hence from my perspective the debate must be brought into two spotlights: education and media.
Personally, creating free education resources online appears to be a governmental no brainer.
In my estimation, within the century, teaching will be handled by an elite few teachers, lecturing to thousands through video calling services. This move to digital formats for education would not only create a free educational framework for the internet, it would save millions in government spending, improves teaching standards and regulate education to a uniform standard.
This world is already beginning to take shape with the likes of YouTube Sal (now the Khan Academy) carving a way for private schools in America to attempt more technology orientated education according to this Forbes article. Once these institutions have effectively road tested online education, the government could adopt their methods and create free online education.
As for now, greater access to education would be likely to transfer to better education levels. Hence a basic standard (i.e. to A level standard) should be readily and freely available to the public through their governments. This is the case in Britain to an extent through services such as BBC Bitesize, however undoubtedly more could be done.
The internet has been something of a fantasy land when it comes to copyright law. Pirates have asserted dominance over media booty, using file sharing sites to spread films, television shows and music. Although efforts have, and are, being pursued to reduce the ability of media pirates to spread digital content, stories such as Game of Thrones being the most digitally pirated TV Show of all time shows how ineffectual these are proving.
The cure, in my opinion, lies in paywalls which could go a long way to increasing online accessibility and hence reduce piracy. The meteoric success of Netflix shows that customers are willing to pay online provided there’s a good interface and a range of shows to choose from. Then there is the case of the WWE who have opted to start their own digital network to distribute their television shows and pay per views. Although they would appear to be losing out on a financial level (with Pay Per Veiws which once cost $65, now coming bundled in a $10 a month package) the reduction in piracy and having a contained audience has left stock prices soaring. Investors are ultimately the people that entertainment companies will be looking to satisfy and hence the signs are there that this is the best way to serve up digital media. A survey covered by The Drum certainly agrees with this.