Students, staff rebel at universities' ban on Skype

IT groups object to P2P architecture, end-user license agreement that allows third parties access to school networks.

In a dispute over network security, students and staff at two California universities are challenging administrators' bans on Skype, the eBay-owned VoIP phone service, reports The Mercury News.

San Jose State University has delayed an outright ban on Skype due to an outcry from its students and staff. Restrictions were being discussed because of security concerns. Administrators are meeting with eBay to have the company address these issues. Concerned students and teachers have written blogs about the potential ban.

"We are putting our university at a competitive disadvantage, both in terms of our ability to collaborate and to use emerging technologies,'' said Steve Sloan, who teaches a journalism class and has been a member of the SJSU information technology department.

Last January, UC-Santa Barbara announced a ban on Skype due to a conflict over the software's user license agreement, which gives third parties access to the university's network.

The controversy arises in Skype's use of peer-to-peer architecture, the same architecture used in many file-sharing systems. Skype uses P2P to route free calls between computers and administrators fear it may be used to illegally trade online movies and music.

Another concern is that its end-user license agreement appears to permit legal use of university's networks by people outside the university. Skype users agree to run an application on their computers that is built to relay calls between third parties whenever a computer is turned on.

"It's a fairly subtle problem,'' said Kevin Schmidt, campus network programmer at the University of California, Santa Barbara. "What we wind up with is a fair amount of traffic that has nothing to do with university business.