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Internet access
Leon Z. Lee

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In the era of the Internet and Virtual Borders, there is a common public assumption that information flows without restriction among countries. However, in reality, online access varies among communication infrastructure, cultural acceptance, and national security concerns.

The Internet refers not only to a myriad of interconnecting computer networks and servers on a multitude of operating systems, but also refers to the tools of the trade, namely E-Mail, FTP, Newsgroup, Chatroom, and the ever ubiquitous Web Sites. With the expansion of worldwide Internet usage in the past debate, there has been a consistent debate between government officials and civil libertarians over the "Access, Usage, and Content" of the Internet.

On one end of the spectrum, China has enlisted the assistance of western multi-national corporations into her "Golden Shield" project, which tantamount to the creation of a national Internet firewall in preventing "undesirable" content from reaching into country. In addition, citizens desiring to secure Internet access must register with the police, for posting remarks against the State and Party is expressly forbidden. Interesting note is that China has been tinkering with this firewall concept since the 1989 Tien-An-Men Incident, therefore she is on the forefront of such innovations.

On the other end of the spectrum, an American citizen was arrested in Denmark in 1995 and extradited to Germany, whereupon he was convicted in 1996 of distributing Neo-Nazi propaganda ( which is still a crime in Germany ). The case drew worldwide attention since the German court charged the defendant in-part that he operated a web site out of Lincoln – Nebraska, which was then access by German citizens, hence a "virtual" distribution of outlawed content. Although the American's rights were protected by the US Constitution, some opponents decry against the "extra-territoriality" of the German courts in designating appropriate online content physically outside of her national borders.

After the events of 9-11, this march towards tighter Internet supervision can also been seen in the European Union as they granted extensive police powers last year to control data privacy ( such as recording E-Mail usage, phone calls, and website visitations of all citizens ). The purpose is to maintain extensive user metrics, thus forming an online personality trait, of such activities for possible criminal investigations in the future. Needless to state, its opponents denounced this legislation as "Dataveillance", which would ultimately create a "Panoptic" society whereby every citizen is being observed 24-7 when using such technology mediums.

At times, Internet access can also encounter cultural barriers. For example, during the introduction of "Personal Computers" to the Japan market, sales were lackluster despite the potential productivity gains. It was discovered that Japanese management did not embrace the "personal" appeal in PCs, fearing that individualistic Internet surfing would undermine group cohesion. Only after extensive marketing analysis did foreign companies "repackage" the PC as form of "corporate group activity", did sales finally take-off.

Socio-linguistics and funding resources have also played a direct role in expanding Internet access for respective nations. For example, India and China basically engaged the Internet at about the same time. However, a decade later, China now possess almost 60 million domestic Internet users ( as published by 2002 Nielsen NetRatings ), which is the second largest in the world next to the US. Analyzing this technology penetration, some have asserted that China's standardized language system ( Mandarin Chinese for spoken language, Simplified Chinese Characters for written language ) has been more efficient in technology education when compared to India's 14 official languages and 500 dialects being used across the country. In addition, China began her Internet expansion primarily with western multi-national corporations, therefore was routinely exposed to global competitive pressures. In comparison, India launched her Internet base with funding from the United Nations, therefore was insulated from external competitive pressures in the initial phases. However, it should be noted that by 1997, India revamped her economic liberalization programs and aggressively expanded her IT resources into the international realm, hence she is the primary benefactor of IT globalization in immediate future.

* Leon is the Global Information Architect, with specializations in web globalization, international business liaison, and information technologies.

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