Right of Reply

A member of Internet Watch, the industry watchdog, argues for regulating the World Wide Web
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SIMON DAVIES' piece ("Make it safe, but keep it free", 4 September) is drenched in a sense of nostalgic whimsy for an Internet which no longer exists.

In the dim and distant past, say 1992, there were probably no more than 200,000 Internet users in the entire world, almost all of them found within or around the universities and the research communities. Frankly what this small, select band got up to with its slow, user-unfriendly computer links was of very little interest or importance to anyone but itself. It was a prelapsarian idyll in which a co-operative, not-for-profit community neither needed nor sought any external regulation.

Today the Internet is reaching out for mass-media status. It is on a trajectory that will make it as ubiquitous as the telephones and televisions with which it will merge. There are already over 120 million Internet users world-wide, six million in the UK alone. By 2001 the global figure will have doubled and be on an even faster-climbing curve.

The Internet is every bit as significant as the road and rail network or the National Health Service.

Thus it is hardly surprising that governments, and all sorts of interest groups, are re-visiting and re-examining the fundamental basis on which the Internet has operated hitherto. The Internet is a modern marvel but it is still in its technological infancy. It has brought in its wake a series of major problems, some of which touch and concern the health, welfare and physical safety of our children.

These problems can be solved but only if, rather than going in to denial or erecting paranoid smokescreens about the wickedness which governments might get up to in the future, we should focus on what needs to be done now to set those ills aright.