Words by c.z.robertson

Videophones, again

2005-04-15 21:03:03 GMT/BST

A couple of years ago, I did a bit of arguing about videophones with John Harper (part one, part two). Well, history repeats itself and Harper has a letter in the Grauniad again, pushing videophones as a solution to our environmental problems. Again I wrote a response, but they didn't publish it this time. It's so annoying when people publish rubbish and don't compensate with unrubbish. (The proper solution of course is not to read the Grauniad.) Anyway, here's the letter I wrote:

If John Harper really wants to reduce pollution, I can suggest a saner way of doing so: Raise taxes on fuel sufficiently to compensate for its negative effects on the environment. Then, if videophones are as useful as Harper thinks they are, the market will quickly reassign resources in that direction. (As a bonus, that approach allows for the possibility that Harper is wrong, and that actually videophones aren't very useful. The market will figure it out soon enough.)

If, on the other hand, Harper just wants videophones then he doesn't need to involve either BT or the government. With ADSL in widespread use, anyone could start manufacturing videophones that plug into an ethernet network and use the Internet to transport data. The rise of VoIP has demonstrated that telephony is a service that can be built, cheaply, on top of basic Internet connectivity. Videophones are no different.

I carefully avoided using the phrase "negative externalities".