August 14, 2011
The recently reshuffled board of the Telecom Regulation Authority (TRA) seems to be willing to reconsider the way it regulates Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) in the country as the TRA has recently published a public consultation paper to seek opinion on this matter.
One of the main highlights of the paper is that the TRA suggests that unlicensed VoIP services from outside the country should not be allowed because (a) local users of such services would not be able to hold their providers accountable, (b) providers of these services would not pay taxes to the Omani government, (c) Omanis would not benefit from employment opportunities at these providers, and (d) it would not be fair to local operators who invested in infrastructure in Oman, among other things.
Such arguments cannot be taken very seriously because it can be claimed that existing online services which are not related to VoIP such as Amazon, eBay, iTunes and million others constitute a potential risk to consumers as consumers cannot hold these companies accountable if anything goes wrong. Yet, the TRA does not seem to be concerned about them. We all know that any online transaction comes with a risk element and we should be able to take that risk if we choose to do so, the same way we deal with all other businesses online.
Issues such as the payment of taxes and Omanisation are examples of how the TRA fails to understand that VoIP is not just a replacement for international phone calls that people use to save money. VoIP is used as a part of many modern technologies that help people learn online, execute business transactions, create their own job opportunities and improve their lifestyles.
There is no doubt that the societal benefits brought about by the availability of new communication methods outweigh the fact that the government cannot directly gain taxes from these people or that Omani people are not employed by these companies.
The TRA also seems to believe that VoIP takes place in a vacuum, because it thinks that local companies that helped create the communications infrastructure will be harmed by the availability of VoIP. The obvious reality is that in order for us to use VoIP, we will have to have an Internet connection and pay a local operator to use the Internet.
The TRA should not try to protect ancient, outdated communication methods when it can push these companies to provide better Internet connections to the public in order to use VoIP and all other services that are readily available to the rest of the world.
The only way for the TRA to make this right would be to unblock providers of VoIP that operate from outside the country in order to effectively communicate with the rest of the world. It is impossible for local companies to provide alternatives that take advantage of modern technologies necessary for e-learning, web conferencing, or even online gaming, and Oman is too small a market for these providers to come register specifically.
The TRA should remember that Article (7) of the Telecommunications Law states that the TRA should aim to ‘encourage the use of telecommunications services with the aim to facilitate the access to global markets and information.’
The TRA has the VoIP consultation paper published on its website at the moment and everyone who cares about using VoIP should take a few minutes to respond to it to show the TRA that it does not make any sense to have Skype or any other VoIP service blocked.
Riyadh Abdul Aziz is a blogger interested in the relationship between the web and society who works as a legal researcher for the government of Oman. He is interested in technology, intellectual property, and law. You can e-mail Riyadh at email@example.com