A piece of news that not many have taken note of is the recent Ministerial Decision issued by the Telecommunications Regulation Authority regulating the provision of Internet service in public commercial venues. While it has been rumoured for long that Skype and similar services are banned in Oman, this is the first time I come across an actual piece of legislation that explicitly prohibits the Voip and renders it illegal.
The Decision was issued on 12th of September and has only been published in the latest issue of the Official Gazette that came out yesterday. Article one of the Decision defines (in Arabic) Voip as a service for delivering audio conversations via the Internet using Internet Protocol instead of the Public Switch Telephone Network (PSTN).
Article 9 later prohibits an internet service provider in public and commercial venues from offering VOIP services or offering any help or guidance on how to use this illegal service. Punishment for violating this Decision include the right to close the internet cafe for a month and revoking its license if the breach is persistently repeated.
I think that the definition of Voip is lose, any audio conversation on the internet is carried over IP protocol and it is done instead of PSTN. When you have a voice chat over MSN you are using Voip, when you talk over Google Talk, Yahoo! Messenger, and all those services you are using Voip. It is clear that they are targeting services such as Skype which let you call regular phones using Voip, but that definition goes way beyond that.
The TRA does not understand that there are loads of Voip services out there, it is possible to use an instant messenger on a mobile device to make an audio conversation with another using the same instant messenger using another mobile device, so that we are using Internet voice chat but on a mobile device with no Skype-out like functionality.
I think that banning Voip services is unfair, we as consumers should have the right to use the Internet that we pay for in whatever way we choose. We do not care if it is bad for the business of Omantel, Oman Mobile, or Nawras. All of those three companies offer data services (whether cabled or otherwise) and promoting Voip is a promotion for using their services.
The use of Skype is rumoured to be unofficially crippled by Omantel to stop home users from making use of its service.