It never ceases to amaze me how people in the government who are responsible for keeping an eye on technology and analyzing its effects can be so blind to the realities of a situation. One would think that being head of a telecommunications or an IT department of a country should somehow be enough of a qualification to be able to understand the issues and to see for yourself what’s what. Unfortunately, the reverse seems to be true. Sometimes it seems that the most ill-informed and technology blind people are elevated to the position of having to decide how technology should progress!
Governments across the world have struggled with slotting Internet-based calling services or VoIP into their traditional regulatory framework. But they’re stymied by the fact that a VoIP network shares very little in common with the traditional PSTN system. To start off with, you don’t require massive amounts of infrastructure and you don’t need to layout miles of wire both above and under the ground in order to build it out. Its beauty is that it works off the underlying Internet connection which is already set up and available to everyone. So the barriers to entry vanish almost overnight.
Second, VoIP is merely another Internet-based application. True it distinguishes itself from normal web traffic from being P2P and real-time, but so does online gaming. It is impossible to pick and choose what Internet services are going to be regulated and what won’t be simply due to the functionality. This leads to an unnecessary discrimination against specific types of traffic that is unwarranted.
The government in Saudi Arabia for example has foolishly decreed that only operators with a telecom license are able to provide VoIP services thereby essentially making programs like Skype illegal. The futility of such a gesture is obvious given the ease with which it can be used. You can’t possibly prosecute thousands of people for using software that is itself is beyond your control. People are going to use the Internet in whatever way they please and will find ways around governments trying to protect the old way of doing things and keep the old revenue-generating business models intact.
Even countries with far more powerful and sophisticated surveillance systems and firewalls like China are unable to maintain control over the Internet. It’s an exercise in futility and the faster government bodies around the world recognize this, the easier everyone’s life can be.