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Finding cyberspace solutions

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Patrolling and controlling the Internet is problematic to a point, but there still must be efforts to regulate commerce and illegal activities proffered in cyberspace. Those attempts must be moderate and not trample legitimate free-speech rights, however - a difficult balance to strike with the fledgling medium.

With that in mind, Gov. Mike Leavitt recently met in England with 20 European leaders to consider international regulation of the Internet. To his credit, Leavitt has been out in front on cyberspace issues, including initiation of the virtual Western Governors University. The conference was primarily an exchange of ideas, but it helped to address the problem from an international perspective. A little initiative can go a long way.Key control issues include taxing goods purchased on the Internet and respecting and enforcing different laws when one state has stricter rules on a given subject - such as pornography - than another. Juggling those and other matters across state lines is tricky. International boundaries pose even greater challenges. But reasonable solutions must be found to maintain a useful and user-friendly Internet not unduly polluted or abused.

Leavitt and other governors nationwide are concerned about erosion of sales tax revenue as more goods and services are sold electronically. Retailers did more than $1 billion worth of business on the Net last Christmas season alone. How should those sales be taxed, with 30,000 separate taxing entitites nationwide?

To solve that, the governors recently penned the Internet Development Act of 1998. It encourages each state to pass a single, uniform sales-tax rate for Internet and mail-order sales. That would give online business only 50 rates to deal with. It is a smart, reasonable move to prevent fiscal chaos as marketing via cyberspace proliferates.

Locally, law-enforcement officials have used appropriate sting efforts to net pedophiles intent on committing crimes against children.

These and other regulatory efforts of the Internet may always be marginally successful due to the omnipresent nature of the medium. The most effective controls occur at the computer terminal, through filtering software, discreet usage and responsible adult supervision.

In a widely praised voluntary agreement last December, Internet providers said they would remove child pornography from their own bulletin boards and would report such filth to law-enforcement officials. Those types of efforts are beneficial because they eliminate problems at the fountainhead, eliminating problems of enforcement across state or national borders.

A judicious balance of policing, voluntary control and good judgment at home or at the office will help make voyages into cyberspace safe and edifying for children and adults.