Last modified: April 13, 1996 7:00 AM PDT
Asian countries face Net paradox
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"The policies that limit information are also policies that would limit an effective economy," said Fena, the executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based civil liberties group. "As we become a global society, the crux of power and control lies within the information."
The economic opportunities are clear and many. In China, the number of Internet users soared from 3,000 to 40,000 in a five-month period ending in August of last year, according to official government figures, and sales of personal computers reached 1.1 million in 1995 alone.
In recent months, a number of U.S. companies have responded to the demand of the region, including AT&T, Silicon Graphics, Dell Computer, and Unisys, which have all announced multimillion-dollar plans to expand operations in Asia. On Thursday, Net access provider UUNet Technologies said it will open a telecommunications and network center in Taiwan and expects to expand in Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
"This is clearly is a huge market for effective telecommunications because of the export-oriented economies in a lot of these countries," said Eric Scace, vice president for international development at UUNet's headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. "Whenever you have a country whose economy is fundamentally based on a complex, large-scale web of international dealing, then telecommunications becomes important to the way it competes in the rest of the world."
What remains unclear, however, is what UUNet or any other international service providers would do if a country were to ask them to block undesirable information. As with most things digital, the speed of Internet technology and development is far outpacing corporate strategy or national legislation.
Even countries that share the same basic perspective about the Net are adopting vastly different policies for dealing with online content.
Beijing is going ahead with plans this month to launch the country's first commercial service provider, China Internet, which it calls "the embryo of the future Information Superhighway" that will eventually become the backbone information network for economic development. By controlling China Internet, the state-run news agency Xinhua also intends to block pornography and certain political material from reaching the general population.