Saturday, September 23, 2006

Banning Skype...

San Jose State University recently announced that it is banning all Skype use on campus - joining a list of third-world nations who do the same.

Skype is a Voice-Over-IP (VoIP) service - meaning that people can download its software for free, and then using the internet, can make telephone calls anywhere in the world. Basically, it provides people with an internet connection a viable alternative to their traditional telephone carrier, and because it uses the internet infrastructure, the physical locations of where and to whom calls are made make no difference. I can make long-distance phone calls completely for free to other Skype users, or pay a cheaper price to non-Skype users than what my telephone company charges.

So why ban such a service? Third world governments have started doing so in order to protect their government monopolies on telecommunications within their societies. Namibia, Belarus, Bangladesh, and others do not want their citizens who currently pay the government for telephone service to have an actual choice in providers, and Skype would be exactly that.

Lesson 1 in how NOT to run a third-world country: create unnecessary burdensome protectionist policies which inhibit economic growth. One of the fastest growing industries in developing nations over the past decade has been the internet and telecom sector. If you've travelled through the third world recently, it's hard not to notice the seemingly endless number of internet cafes popping up, many of which offer tourists cheap rates to call home using VoIP. So what does a country like Zimbabwe do when a new business industry emerges and proves successful? They ban it, of course!

Meanwhile, why would American universities seek to ban Skype and VoIP? The reasons aren't all that different. As Mike at Techdirt explains, "school administrators [at San Jose State] say that it's because Skype's peer-to-peer nature effectively allows others to use the on-campus network - though the same could be said of any peer-to-peer application, and hardly seems like a reasonable explanation for the outright ban. A more likely explanation probably has something to do with whatever contracts the university has with its telecom provider - who doesn't like the idea of being undercut".

Don't you love when governments, corporations, and even universities make decisions for us? Wasn't the whole idea of capitalism to have consumer choice and market competition? Because unless I'm missing something, that's exactly what Skype offers.


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