Internet Regulation Grows Internationally
By Shannon Henry
While the prospect of the United States government regulating the Internet is hotly debated, Internet use is already being censored or simply cut off in many parts of the world.
Speakers at a recent conference on Digital Dilemmas: Defining Ethics in the Internet Age, gave accounts of international governments stifling Internet access. Such moves weaken the Internet's power and growth as a communications tool, experts told a March 12 conference at Marymount University in Arlington, Va. And even if the United States does not regulate the Internet, other countries can affect the free speech and interaction of U.S. citizens.
Burma recently banned fax machines and modems, said Don Heath, president of the Internet Society, an international group of Internet users and companies.
In fact, Heath said, U.S. companies shouldn't fear their regulators. "For entrepreneurs, regulators can be the biggest allies - in this country," said Heath.
| The Internet Society's Don Heath said regulators can be an entrepreneur's biggest ally in this country.|
The French government is concerned that there is too much English as opposed to French or any other language on the Internet, said Robert Pepper, chief of the office of plans and policy at the Federal Communications Commission. France is on a campaign to bring more of its language and culture to the Internet, especially the World Wide Web.
And the German government is trying to determine how to translate a law forbidding companies to do business on Sundays to Web vendors, said Thomas Kalil, senior director of the National Economic Council.
Other countries have censored Internet access or outright blocked it. International regulation of the Internet directly affects U.S. users. "In the Internet space, there is no geography, there is no time. So all the legal structures have changed," said William Melton, CEO of CyberCash, Reston, Va.
The latest Internet demographics study by Nielsen Media Research found that there are about 50 million people on the Internet just in the United States and Canada. That's more than twice the number of people who used the Internet 18 months ago.
Melton, whose company employs 85 of its 200 staffers in India, predicted the number of Internet users will grow to 100 million to 200 million people by 2000.
Contributing greatly to the surge, he said, are U.S. colleges and universities that give students an e-mail address with their dorm room assignment.
Mass use of the Internet will never materialize if it is overregulated, he said. "The countries where this is not happening is where they're regulating their stuff," said Melton.