Kuwait MoC Adds ‘Skype’ To Series Of Blocked Net Phone Websites
By Francis A. Clifford Cardozo
Arab Times Staff
Reprinted from ‘Arab Times’ (15th September, 2008)
KUWAIT CITY, Sept 15: Skype became the latest among a series of Internet telephony websites blocked by the Ministry of Communications (MoC). Though a number of Internet telephone websites were blocked by the ministry last year, some of them are back in operation and they include: Net2phone, Delta-three, Phoneserve, Go2call, PC2Phone, among others. Those trying to access the Skype webpage are greeted with a message: “This website has been restricted based on the instructions of the Ministry of Communications. We apologize for the inconvenience.” Skype is a software that allows users to make calls from PC to PC free of charge, while the fee is minimal for service involving PC to landline or cell phone. Skype, which is considered a leader among VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services, offers additional features including: instant messaging, file transfer and video conferencing. Some illegal Internet phone providers are charging as low as 30 fils per call to many Asian countries, even as the ministry has stepped up its campaign against the illegal practice. Hundreds of expats trading in Internet calls have been deported by the authorities since a nation wide crackdown began last year.
An operator at an illegal telephone center, who only identified himself as Rizwan, told the Arab Times that although the Skype is banned, users can still make calls by downloading the necessary software.
“Outlets which sell the pre-paid Skype cards provide the software to their customers. The ban will affect only those who do not have the software. What makes Skype unique is its new improved voice quality and instant connection which are poles apart from its competitors,” he added. “The ban will fizzle out as is the case with other VOIPs. A majority of the sites that were blocked by the ministry last year are back in business with renewed vigour. Phoneserve is getting popular among the expats as the service provider recently slashed its tariffs and has also enhanced the voice quality,” he added.
Reacting to the ban on Skype, Amer Al-Hilal, an ex-Kuwaiti diplomat and a prominent private sector manager, told the Arab Times that low paid workers have no choice but to patronize cheap telephone services, even as the telephone tariffs of ministry are highest in the world. “I do not blame them (workers) for patronizing the illegal phone service. If the ministry is serious in curbing the problem, then it should dramatically cut its rates,” he added. Al-Hilal noted that the ministry should accept the fact that the communication revolution would eventually lead to free or extremely cheap communication whether through the Internet medium or otherwise.
Stressing that the authorities are “stuck in 1985 time-warp”, he affirmed that the ministry should offer VOIP services under its umbrella and that as long as it charges exorbitant rates, people would continue to flock to illegal phone centers. Hailing the crackdown on illegal phone outlets, he noted that there is a greater need to bring to book people who embezzle millions of dinars from the government coffers. In the UAE, he said, the authorities tried to ban Skype but there was a huge uproar among the expatriate community which prompted the government to scrap its plan. “In Kuwait, the problem is that people don’t stand up for their rights whether they are Kuwaitis or expatriates. They should demand their rights even as expats can make their voices heard through their concerned embassies,” he added. “The ministry should stop relying on income derived from overseas calls and liberalize communication sector,” he concluded.