A war on VoIP in Arabia
For many years now, telecommunications operators have been losing revenue to free voice over IP (VoIP) services, like Skype, and local regulatory authorities have stepped up their battle against such services, deeming them as illegal.
Although this is a relatively grey area in many Arab countries, several have now clearly crafted regulations to outlaw VoIP.
Apart from the now common-place crackdown on Internet cafes, regulation is crackdown covers both VoIP telephony through PCs and now through mobiles too.
In fact, last week, the Egyptian government declared mobile VoIP as officially illegal, unless provided by the licensed state telecom operator, which means a block on Skype and other known international SIP providers.
At the moment, it’s not clear which mobile operators have actually implemented the ban.
This follows a statement last week from The United Arab Emirates Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA), saying that voice calls provided by popular VoIP client Skype are considered a 'regulated activity' and that anyone using the software will be 'legally liable'.
Basically, this means that Etisalat and Du can offer a range of VoIP services in the country, while unlicensed entities cannot.
This seems to be a more open approach, but it clearly bans Internet telephony operators like Skype. In fact, Skype.com is blocked in the UAE but people use it through their iPhone. The TRA says that anyone using the software will be "legally liable".
So, that means a partial-ban on VoIP services, but a total ban of unlicensed and usually free services.
The question is how can millions of users, in Egypt or UAE or anyone else, be monitored or penalized.
Surely, there has be another approach to solve this issue. Maybe some form of cooperation with VoIP providers whereby they agree to pay taxes or fees of some sort to local governments.
The war against voice over IP is just another chapter in the Internet era’s story, which requires a complete rethink on the part of ill prepared businesses and governments.
It appears that there is a realization that Internet driven communications cannot be stopped, but tactical decisions for now aim to ‘freeze’ the problem till a viable solution is found, but will there really be any solution other than accepting the new reality and embracing a complete ‘rethink’ of business models and government regulation.
Any chance of that happening soon? Any enlightened initiatives on the way? Most of us sincerely hope so.