NEW CAST BUT SAME OLD STORY; A NET CENSOR

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Even before there was a car industry, there was car advertising. As this issue's Special Report on 100 Years of Auto Advertising points out, by the time the first dozen Duryeas had rolled out of the factory, there was already a trade journal for car fanciers, and it boasted ads for tires, car manufacturers and parts suppliers.

A century later, what's relevant about that first trade journal-wonderfully named Horseless Age, by the way-is that it clearly felt the sting of criticism from 19th century cynics who believed the automotive craze was all hype and would never amount to anything more than a fad.

Editor and publisher E.P. Ingersoll admitted in his first issue in November 1895 that the car industry was indeed in an embryonic state, but insisted that "those who have taken the pains to search below the surface for the great tendencies of the age know what a giant industry is struggling into being there." More importantly, he made sure to let would-be advertisers know how to request a rate card for Horseless Age, and what his deadlines were for submitting changes in ad copy.

Like the decades surrounding the turn of the century, which saw the development of the telephone, the car, the motion picture and the phonograph, we begin 1996 in the midst of a similar great wave of change, this time powered by computers, the Internet and a global convergence of digital technologies. Certainly there's no shortage of publishers betting that the Internet will have the same transformational impact on the world as the car did. But modern-day versions of Horseless Age appear not only on paper but in electronic form as well, and they suffer much of the same scoffing from those leery of the hype surrounding all things digital.

Regardless of how that particular debate works out ("Who needs this Internet thing? Horses will get you there and with a lot less noise"), what's important is that once again, this time in cyberspace, advertising is at work even before there's a well-defined business. One hundred years can come and go, but advertising continues to lead the way.

The internet is supposed to be a borderless medium, but late last month German laws reached into Columbus, Ohio, and changed the way Americans-and CompuServe customers everywhere else-can use the nation's second-largest commercial online service.

CompuServe's controversial decision to block ac-cess worldwide to more than 200 Internet news-groups because they may violate German porn laws re-ignited the ongoing debate over cyberspace censorship. With Congress apparently ready to dole out stiff penalties to those distributing "indecent" materials over the Internet, CompuServe's move raises fears that free speech will be trampled by an international tide of government regulation of new media.

We support CompuServe in its desire to respect local laws and protect children from potentially harmful materials. Something needs to be done if the Internet is to be welcomed into the home as the information-age medium for commerce, education and recreation. But we continue to believe the best solution is a marketplace solution, one that-to quote America Online's Steve Case-"empowers online users with the appropriate tools to protect themselves and their children."

Such filtering software will soon be widely available, and it is those types of tools, not the threat of government censorship, that should be used to resolve these thorny questions.

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