Earlier this month we reported that Burma had timidly entered among the countries joining the Facebook revolutions. The Facebook page “Just Do It Against Military Dictatorship” gathered steam (which has since somewhat level off), and it appeared that activists were attempting to use the extremely limited Internet access Burma had. While every country involved in the social-media bred demonstrations has struggled against an oppressive government, Burmese authorities are known for their extreme violence against citizens. As famed dissident Aung San Suu Kyi said regarding the uprising, “the people have stood in Burma before, as you know, and in those instances they were fired upon by the army.”
Now it appears that just the inkling of citizen uprising is enough to make the country tighten its grip on access to the rest of the world. According to Global Post, Skype has been blocked and other VoIP platforms are being banned as well. The Post also reminds us that using Internet cafes for VoIP international calls are one of the few ways the reclusive country’s citizens have of communicating with the rest of the world. Mobile phones and other personal devices for communication are wildly expensive: For example, owning your own cell phone number (just the SIM card, not the hardware or accompanying software) is about $1,700. And how does that translate here? The worth of a dollar is obviously much higher in the very poor country, so it would be akin to charging a US citizen $72,000 for a mobile number. So free or inexpensive VoIP software is an important asset to the Burmese.
The larger motivation to cut Skype and similar services could obviously be to increase increase profits for the government-owned phone company within the country, but there have been reports before the latest restriction that the Burmese government would be restricting access to information about the Middle Eastern revolutions. A report in the New York Times yesterday claimed that the Chinese government is also taking precautions, and that if the word “protest” is heard over phone lines, the call is immediately cut. China also recently shutdown hundreds of thousands of Internet cafes. Still, money may be the larger issue at play in Burma, but this all just means the oppressive government can kill two birds with one stone by cutting VoIP services.
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