Should Service Providers Bow to Government Shutdown Demands?

Should Service Providers Bow to Government Shutdown Demands?

Consider the following scenario: Government leaders demand that you shut down your managed services within a specific country or region during a political crisis. Should you bow to the demands and go dark? Or do you have a moral obligation to maintain service for your customers in that region? It's quite a dilemma -- one that has come to the forefront during the current crisis in Egypt.

According to The Wall Street Journal, both Vodafone Group PLC and France Telecom said Monday (Jan. 31) they have restored cellphone services in Egypt, amid civil unrest in the country that prompted the country's government to order the shutdown of many forms of communication on Friday (Jan. 28). During the communications blackout, Vodafone had stated: "Under Egyptian legislation, the authorities have the right to issue such an order and we are obliged to comply with it."

Shortly after Vodafone's decision, some university leaders and media experts criticized the telecommunications company for losing site of the bigger picture.

Professor Ingrid Volkmer, the head of media and communications at Melbourne University, told ABC News:

"I must say also that with Vodafone being kind of obedient to the Egyptian government, that is also an interesting phenomenon. I mean Vodafone is a transnational operation, and I'm wondering if there isn't a time for transnational providers of crucial communication within conflict times to consider a bit more responsibility. Being cut off by the government and just comply with it, I think, that is something we should really discuss and think about if transnational corporations don't have another form of responsibility in these times of conflict."
Well said. But I realize it's easy for a blogger like me to promote an idealist vision (keep the service running...) rather than a realist statement (Vodafone would have been shut down anyway). I wonder how small managed services providers would react if a government came calling and demanded a service shutdown?

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