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Crackdown on VoIP has affected expats [Arab Times (Kuwait)]
[December 13, 2012]

Crackdown on VoIP has affected expats [Arab Times (Kuwait)]

(Arab Times (Kuwait) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) KUWAIT CITY, Dec 11: The crackdown on internet-call service providers has begun to take effect in Kuwait, feel expatriates, who are finding it increasingly difficult to find such service providers in the state.

The Arab Times was doing a random study at areas known for a proliferation of illegal internet-call centers, and found that many of them have disappeared.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is banned in Kuwait; however, there are plenty of unblocked VoIP sites easily available on the Internet. A majority of expatriates use VoIP to talk to their families and friends back home regularly from their computers at home, and many are not even aware that it's illegal, exposing a grey area of Internet regulations in Kuwait.

The crackdown on VoIP has been effective only to the extent of closing down service providers running a business, say some expatriates. Riggai, Abbassiya and Kheitan, where VoIP centers were bustling once, have witnessed closure of many centers. Sources talking to the Arab Times said that the closures were not because of police crackdowns, but due to the centers going out of business with the drop in Internet rates.

The government's regulations of Internet costs, almost cutting by half the earlier prices, has suddenly made high-quality Internet available to even people from the lower rungs of the economic ladder, who are most dependent on VoIP centers to make their international calls.

High speed Internet connection is a necessity to make international calls using VoIP, which the illegal service providers have access to. Over the years, as internet-call business proliferated, with increased competition, the rates began to fall from 100 fils per minute to about 10 fils to places like the Indian subcontinent, where a vast majority of laborers in Kuwait come from.

To Philippines the cost per minute is in the range of 50 fils. When users make VoIP calls directly from their computers, the costs are even less, making it almost negligible. VoIP users look at the facility as almost free, making hour-long calls to their home countries.

A few erstwhile internet-call providers, who have now closed down, said that the risk is too high as the ministry has toughened its stance against the illegal business, which is said to eat into millions of KD of government revenue every year.

Further they added that with increasing competition the profit margins are also severely trimmed, making the risk not worth it.

Random police raids in areas like Jleeb Shuyoukh has also been a cause for the drop in internet-call businesses. Many expatriates complained that they are living in constant fear of raids, because it's not just bachelors' apartments that are raided, but families' too.

Some interviewees who confessed to patronizing VoIP services said the business is still thriving in Kuwait, "just that the service providers function in a fluid manner, switching locations regularly, to dodge police. They have a list of loyal customers, and they home-deliver the instrument, enabling customers to make calls from the comfort and safety of their homes. This reduces the risk." The fact that even customers using the illegal service are liable to be punished scares them away from visiting these centers. That has also taken a toll on the VoIP business. The new technique of customers availing the instrument from their homes has been a workaround.

The apparent disappearance of internet-call service providers is attributed to the secretive nature the business has taken on in contrast to the earlier practice of people gathering up on street corners waiting for their chance to use the phone.

IT experts who preferred to be anonymous said that a country harboring such a huge population of expatriates has to make VoIP legal, otherwise a majority of the workers in Kuwait would be unable to stay in touch with their families back home. The cost of legitimate international calls is still way too high for an average worker to afford it, they added.

They pointed out that due to some technicalities in VoIP not all sites can be blocked effectively, which gives expatriates some solace. The experts also noted that the law against VoIP is not uniform across the GCC. Some countries permit it. They also cited the example of a particular GCC country where the active interference of ambassadors of various countries effected a reversal of the ban on VoIP.

Another group of interviewees Arab Times spoke to said that they prefer VoIP to regular international calls for reasons of clarity. The telecommunication service in Kuwait is still below par compared to other states in the region, they added. "The clarity is low with echoes and static. Sometimes, the calls just don't go through. Even families calling from abroad have to make several tries before getting a call through to Kuwait."   (c) 2012 Arab Times Kuwait English Daily. All Rights Reserved. Provided by an company

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