Thursday, May 31, 2007

Kuwait Ministry of Communications Cracks down on Internet Telephony


There are some things in Kuwait that I don’t understand. And one of them is the mentality at the Ministry of Communications (MOC) with regards to internet telephony and cheap international calling cards. Whereas before the advent of the internet, poorly paid expatriate workers were forced to use the services of the MOC to call home at expensive rates to India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and the Philippines to name a few places, they now have the opportunity to use cheap internet telephony such as Net2Phone or international calling cards that connect through the internet. However, the MOC has criminalized the use of such services and blocked access to websites of internet telephone services.

Statements attributed to MOC officials with regards to the matter are found quoted in different Kuwaiti newspapers. In the May 28, 2007 issue of the Daily Star Kuwait Edition, a small article appeared stating that the MOC had “blocked 67 websites being used to make ‘illegal’ online international phone transactions,” and one high official said that such transactions “waste public funds, as well as create social and security menaces in the country.” That is quite a loaded statement without any explanation. In what possible way could using much cheaper internet telephony services create a social and security menace? The MOC went on to say that they are recording names of customers of such services for easy tracking of violators, reminiscent of an Orwellian world. It is difficult to imagine the underpaid Indian or Bangladeshi who perhaps works at slightly above subsistence levels of $200 a month being called a criminal violator because he tries to save money on calling home. It is also more puzzling to read in the government newspaper that “brave” police officers arrested these violators and the people running such internet telephony “dens.”

But the Kuwait MOC is not alone in its actions. The UAE also joined Kuwait in this move, even to the point of blocking Skype. Bans on internet telephony services are also reported to extend to other countries in the region. But at least in Kuwait, Skype is not banned, which is great as I use it to call family and friends at home.

The reasons for the ban are economic and perhaps political as well. When the ministries of communication or government owned phone companies began seeing a drop in revenues, they quickly banned internet telephony in a move to force migrant workers, who are largely from Asia, to try and force them to continue calling home at expensive rates with the government’s telephone company. Yet I can’t understand why oil rich states such as the UAE and Kuwait, which is currently making record level profits from oil sales and recently decided to provide all Kuwaiti university students with $1000/month salary, is squeezing money from its migrant workers. The political reason behind banning internet telephony may be due to the increased difficulty or lack of possibility with tapping phone conversations since some internet services such as Skype automatically encrypt phone calls.

How long can Kuwait’s MOC swim upstream the river of time before they concede to modernization, the new possibilities of the internet, and the new role to which they must adapt as a MOC? On the homepage of the MOC’s website (http://www.kuwait-info.com/sidepages/state_ministries_communications.asp), the MOC proclaims that “The State of Kuwait is considered a pioneer among the Gulf countries in the field of modern means of communication.” Unfortunately it seems this claim applies to a pre-internet era.
Below is a good newspaper article detailing the MOC’s difficulty to accept internet telephony and globalization.

A CALL TO WEB CALLS
By Amer Al-Hilal
From Arab Times (10th March, 2007)

The Kuwait Ministry of Communications apparently is not familiar with globalization, the shrinking 'world village' and the communications revolution sweeping the world. The bureaucratic, backward MOC mentality is stuck in a 1985 time warp. As reported the last few days, the Ministry of Communications has blocked Internet Telephony Services. One could see this particular train wreck coming ever since one of the MOC Under-Secretaries complained a few months ago of losing "20 million KD" in revenue per year due to the Net services.

But let us ponder the issue at hand what is KD 20 million to the MOC? Is this amount more important than allowing our expatriates and businesses to communicate in a swifter, less expensive manner via the net? The majority of citizens in Kuwait are expatriates, and many of them rely on services like Net To Phone because they cannot pay the exorbitant prices by the MOC. These tactics by the MOC are akin to Mafia extortion tactics (arrests, intimidation, blocked sites), forcing citizens to use high cost, sub par services. We are dealing with basic human rights here, the right to communicate with family and friends and not pay outrageous prices.

I am positive tens of millions more get wasted due to corruption and mismanagement at the MOC. The Kuwait international rates are among the highest in the Middle East and the world, technology is catching up; internet telephony services are one day going to make charges obsolete, so the MOC needs to 'get with the program' : preparing itself for its essential and eventual transformation from a traditional, bloated, pedantic government bureaucracy to an "Authority" that provides services and quality control.
Thousands of people are moving away from landlines (part of a global trend) and obtaining mobile numbers (they are the real MOC revenue-killer) - does the MOC intend to sue Wataniya and MTC as well?

The Former MOC Minister should have spent more time attempting to 'fix' Kuwait Airways (which is now being sued by 17 stranded passengers in Thailand) than trying to milk every last cent out of poor expatriates and citizens attempting to communicate with others via the Net . I also hope expatriates and their representatives in Kuwait help pressure the MOC to revers its course.

For a ministry that has proclaimed its willingness to 'reform,' 'modernize' and avail Kuwait of the latest technological developments in the Communications field, it has failed miserably to keep up with modern trends, limit ISP charges and upgrade its digital and broadband services to be on par with most modern states. The MOC needs to move away from its bureaucratic, inefficient and intrusive Orwellian world into the 21st century.

5 comments:

Avinash Agrawal said...

Is there some postal address to write to Minister of comm ?

Avinash Agrawal said...

Wrote at

http://mockw.net/moc/wsite/main-en.aspx

Dear Minster of Communication. Please reduce DSL rates in Kuwait, In USA, DSL is VERY cheap ($25 per month for 3000 Kbps), but in Kuwait , its KD15 per month for 500 Kbps. Having cheap high speed internet (like electricity and water) is good for economy and business, otherwise people might not want to come and live in Kuwait. Also IP telephony should be allowed in Kuwait just like in USA etc , Thanks Avinash \

Talal said...

This is excellent ... you guys are great. I feel this for the last 4 years how expensive and full of red tape the communication system of Kuwait.

I also can not beleive that when you ask most ISPs (internet service providers) in Kuwait about SMTP / email service they tell you to use yahoo email or gmail ... is this a joke???? What a time waster to click on links on the internet everytime you want to read few emails, have they ever heard of "outlook" how you can download all your emails down to your computer and process them there. I just can not beleive that a rich modern state like kuwait still has many problems with internet / telecommunications including the lack of DSL service in some areas like Salwa (Due to distance from Salmiah node) ... is this another joke???? so I switch to eGo with Zain and endup paying 27KD a month for 200kbps that barely works and drops the connection every few minutes. I am so frustrated and disappointed with the communications in Kuwait.

Talal said...

This is excellent ... you guys are great. I feel this for the last 4 years how expensive and full of red tape the communication system of Kuwait.

I also can not beleive that when you ask most ISPs (internet service providers) in Kuwait about SMTP / email service they tell you to use yahoo email or gmail ... is this a joke???? What a time waster to click on links on the internet everytime you want to read few emails, have they ever heard of "outlook" how you can download all your emails down to your computer and process them there. I just can not beleive that a rich modern state like kuwait still has many problems with internet / telecommunications including the lack of DSL service in some areas like Salwa (Due to distance from Salmiah node) ... is this another joke???? so I switch to eGo with Zain and endup paying 27KD a month for 200kbps that barely works and drops the connection every few minutes. I am so frustrated and disappointed with the communications in Kuwait.

Anonymous said...

Skype is blocked now. :(