Monday, September 24, 2012

Countries wary of Internet, despite economic benefits

Reed Hundt
A single digital marketplace where ideas and goods flow freely across borders offers great potential for economic growth. It also makes many national leaders worry about loss of control of their people and culture.

Whether and how to control the Internet is the biggest unanswered question facing countries today, said Reed Hundt, who helped develop many of the policies that govern the web when he was chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in the 1990s.

He made his comments Sept. 24 during a lively discussion at Tsinghua University School of Journalism and Communication. Students argued about whether to censor web material such as the video that insulted the prophet Muhammad and led to anti-U.S. demonstrations and violence in several Islamic countries.

To censor or not

Student opinions are as varied as those of world leaders. One student said potentially volatile information should be suppressed to avoid violence. Another said he would trust journalists to make their own judgments about what should be published. A third accused the U.S. government of using social media to foment revolution in Arab countries.

Hundt, who is a board member of and consultant to various technology and telecommunications companies, played down the power of any government to control the Internet and focused on its economic benefits. He said it accounts for an estimated 10-20 percent in annual global growth.

Charles Firestone, right, and Prof. Lee Miller of
the Global Business Journalism program.
The Internet's potential to create jobs and drive development is why the Aspen Institute, a non-partisan policy advocate, has been promoting a borderless digital marketplace, Charles M. Firestone, executive director of the Institute's Communications and Society Program, told the students. 

The Institute is promoting policies worldwide that strengthen Inernet infrastructure, promote free flow of information across borders and create a trusted environment that protects privacy, user identification and security. 

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