Tuesday

Tuesday 12/11/2002The digital divide is always worth worrying about: you don't have to be a bleeding-heart liberal pinko commie to appreciate that if rich countries or privileged classes keep information technology to themselves, the less advantaged will have even more problems getting a decent slice of life than they do at the moment.

Tuesday 12/11/2002
The digital divide is always worth worrying about: you don't have to be a bleeding-heart liberal pinko commie to appreciate that if rich countries or privileged classes keep information technology to themselves, the less advantaged will have even more problems getting a decent slice of life than they do at the moment. Unreconstructed capitalists should decry this for keeping the size of the market down; those weak-minded souls who allow morals and a sense of common humanity to contaminate their thinking will have further objections. Which makes it doubly unfortunate that some of the poorer countries are trying to exacerbate that divide. Today's news is that Panama has joined places such as Cuba and Egypt in restricting or banning the use of voice over IP: the rationale is that the state monopoly telcos (stand up, Cable & Wireless) are making too much money out of international calls to allow cheaper alternatives. We all know the frustration of watching progress slowed by entrenched interests, but in this case it's even worse -- the way Panama is stopping VoIP is by banning the use of certain Internet protocol port numbers. It's quite a long list. As all you IP experts know, it's usually possible to reconfigure a utility to use a different port number -- and a lot of port numbers are in any case used by more than one bit of software. So the Panamanian firewall won't stop the canny from making phone calls over the Internet, but it will stop a number of other, non-VoIP utilities from working properly for the majority of people. People, in this case, for whom the benefits of global information access are much greater and contain much more promise than they do for us communication-soaked Europeans and North Americans. It's true that telco tariffs can be major sources of income for poorer countries, siphoning off dosh from the richer countries in quite an effective manner. Alas, most of the people in the rich countries making those calls are ex-pats and not normally among the best-paid workers in the place -- so a lot of the telco tax comes from people least able to pay it anyway, and who will repatriate a lot of their earnings in any case. It's not a simple problem, but restricting network access is no solution.

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