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Laura Guevin Points Of Presence

Editorial Director, Communications ASP

[September 8, 2000]

Where In The World Is VoIP Banned?

Of all the controversial voice-over-IP topics I've covered in this column, the ones that have generated the most interest, and questions, have been focused on international access to IP calling. Most readers want some sort of comprehensive guide outlining which nations of the world allow VoIP, and which countries have banned it. Unfortunately, governments and the powerful incumbent telcos are constantly changing their stances on calling over the Net, so it's nearly impossible to keep up on where it's been banned. (Not to mention that many smaller nations that have banned it are not exactly publicizing that fact.) However, I will attempt to give an update on some of the countries that are opening up to this way of communicating -- as well as countries that previously allowed it and are now trying to stop it.

I was disturbed to hear last week that Cable & Wireless plc (C&W ), the giant telco that has a monopoly on phone service in the Cayman Islands (per a government agreement), has started blocking Internet subscribers from using Net2Phone. The company sent an e-mail to all of its Internet subscribers, informing them that using the Internet for phone service was a breach of contract. C&W has monopolies on phone or Internet services in countries throughout the Caribbean. In recent years, nations like Jamaica, Guyana, Barbuda, and Antigua have broken or are attempting to break their ties to C&W and bring in local competition. In the meantime, complaints about VoIP calling and expensive, slow Internet access are widespread.

China has seen a shift from intolerance to promotion of the Internet and VoIP services -- and at least some competition in its telecommunication market over the past year. Companies like AudioCodes and Clarent have been working with China Telecom to offer reliable Internet calling that conforms with China's rigid government requirements.

India has been on the fence about legalizing VoIP for many years, and according to some network providers, PC-to-phone calling has been on the rise there, although all real-time VoIP is technically banned (voice mail and other store-and-forward services are permitted over the Internet). The country's government-appointed telecom monopoly, Vidash Sanchar Nigam Ltd. (VSNL), has said that VoIP would amount to at least $500 million in annual revenue losses. Nonetheless, it's been rumored that the Indian government will legalize VoIP in 2001, and VSNL is slated to lose its monopoly on international calling in 2002, two years earlier than planned in a move to privatize the market.

VoIP is also illegal in Bangladesh, where the incumbent telco complained that it was cutting into revenues. And the Nepal Telecommunications Authority asked ISPs to block VoIP services earlier this year. As far as I know, it also remains illegal in Pakistan (see my earlier column, "Be Careful How You Call: VoIP Is Illegal In Many Countries"), although it's been rumored the government is considering acceptance.

Israel is commonly known as the birthplace of VoIP, and is one of the hottest countries for VoIP equipment and service production, boasting the likes of innovators like VocalTec, AudioCodes, ShelCad Communications, RADVision, Tundo, MIND CTI, Arelnet, ECI Telecom, deltathree.com, and CTI Squared. And Internet calling is also legal in Saudi Arabia -- at least for the time being. But most other countries in that region of the world have not been as receptive to VoIP, and it remains illegal in Lebanon and Qatar. Many other countries in the Middle East do not have formal legislation governing IP telephony, yet most ISPs ban Internet calling services like Net2Phone.

From the online information I've found over the past year, it appears that Poland is the only country truly banning IP telephony in Europe. I've also seen some reports that Iceland and Portugal do not allow it, but the Portugal Telecom Web site has information on VoIP trials in progress, and I've seen many different reports on IP telephony activity in Iceland. Russia, which once banned VoIP services, is now rapidly growing its data infrastructure. And network wholesalers like ITXC are also working to expand the growing VoIP market in Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries. Egypt also threw in the towel earlier this year after previously banning VoIP and decided the service would be allowed through Egypt Telecom. I've seen some reports that Ghana and Ethiopia have made VoIP illegal, but I could not find any corroboration.

It would appear that most governments are waking up to the realization that Internet telephony is not going away, and it's easier to accept and promote it than try to stop it. And it would seem that companies like C&W that are struggling to hold onto their monopolies in a market headed toward deregulation are really only hurting themselves -- and presenting a contradictory image to potential customers. For instance, only a few months before C&W told its Cayman Island customers to stop using their Internet connections for voice, the company announced completion of the first phase of its global IP network rollout. The OC-192 network features points of presence in London, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Sydney. According to C&W, the new network will "deliver integrated Internet, data, voice, and messaging communications with a consistent quality of service for businesses worldwide." Well, at least in certain parts of the world.

Laura Guevin welcomes your comments at lguevin@tmcnet.com.

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