Corrupting Influences on VoIP

VoIP bloggers Russell Shaw and Rich Tehrani have both weighed in on the role that the cozy relationship between governmental leaders in so-called “Third-World” countries and the established telecom monopolies in those countries may have on VoIP.

Specifically, Shaw and Terhani postulate — through thinly veiled questions — that VoIP is under attack (through port blocking, IP telephony bans and the arrests of VoIP providers) in Namibia, Belarus, Bangladesh, United Arab Emirates and South Korea as a direct result of political malfeasance.

“Many countries have ties between their rulers and the telecom companies that operate in the country,” asserts Tehrani.

“… do I smell the stench of corruption?” asks Shaw.

Of course, Shaw and Tehrani have every right to wonder out loud whether corruption is to blame for unfavorable political actions against VoIP (though an example or two of the countries where “the ruler’s brother or other family member [is] in charge of the nation’s phone company,” as Terhrani writes, would certainly help bolster the claim).

Surprisingly, though, both Shaw and Tehrani give the US a pass when it comes to the same matter. Shaw, usually an astute political observer, at least mentions the relationship between “lobbying and campaign contributions” against net neutrality, though he insists that what happens in Namibia and other places is an “even more overt corruption.”

Is it?

Is it indeed more corrupt than lobbyists and industry chiefs taking friendly politicos on all-expense covered golf treks in Scotland or gifting them luxury NFL sky boxes? Or giving the less-than-qualified offspring of elected officials cushy high-paying jobs? Or lining campaign coffers with thousands of dollars in contributions? And, in all these cases, expecting and receiving favorable votes.

Or, dipping into something even more controversial, invading a country and then giving a company formerly headed by a sitting VP millions upon millions of dollars worth of no-bid rebuilding contracts and sub-contracts?

If we’re going to postulate about “corruption” in the treatment of internet communications, let’s take a look in our own backyard too.

Is there any connection between the thousands of dollars Intrado and its executives sprinkled around “ruling party” politicians in the US and the FCC enactment of antiquated e911 regulations on VoIP providers — regulations that perfectly fit Intrado’s money-making offerings in this area?

Is there a connection between the campaign largesse of the major telecommunications players in the US and the fact that VoIP became the first, and since frequent, internet-based target of politicians and their appointed regulators?

No doubt, corruption is a big problem in many countries. And it would not be surprising if it plays a role in the zeal with which some foreign political leaders are clamping down on VoIP.

But Russell, Rich: If it’s not corruption, what do you call what we have here?


  1. rtehrani says:

    Marcelo Rodriguez has some very interesting commentary over at Voxilla. He observes a great deal of behavior in the US that smells of corruption. This is in response to a blog post that Russell Shaw posted and I picked up on. Russell spent most of his blog post talking about the attack on VoIP in third world countries. Marcelo really seems to be upset when he discusses the situation in the US.

    To be clear, our political system is more or less designed in a way that politicians are encouraged to take money from corporations via loopholes and any legal means. In response organizations that donate get to influence our political system. Perhaps the word “designed” is too strong but this is essentially what happens.

    This is how democracy works in the US. It used to disgust me actually but this is just how things work and we just need to get used to it.


  2. lonnie says:

    With all due respect, “just getting used to” a situation here in America that we are willing to call “corruption” when it occurs in another country — especially a “Third-World country” — is precisely what we ought not be doing.

    Rich, you should recall the disgust you “used to feel” and use that to help lead the charge against corruption right here at home. Otherwise, at least as it applies to the development of the IP communications industry, only those who are willing (or able) to “donate” to the maintenance of our political system will have a voice in guiding it.

  3. sjsobol says:

    Corruption and anti-competitive behavior exists in US telecomm today and has for many years. I see anti-competitive behavior by the big guys any time a new technology comes out. I still see ILECs attempting to screw over their resellers on stuff like DSL where the ILEC has to be involved if you don’t want to spend millions on infrastructure… but it’s prevalent in other areas too.

    The ILECs would all have us using 56K dialups over copper, forever, if they had their way.

  4. sjsobol says:

    Um, make that “56K dialups and analog voice calls over copper.”