And the Expats Rejoiced… yay

If you’ve never lived in a foreign country, you may not understand the importance of extremely cheap ways to call home.  I have a voice over IP (VoIP) line that works over the internet to give me a Dallas phone number.  This makes it super easy to keep in touch with friends and family, and it lets me conduct any business with companies in the States that I need to.  I pay a monthly fee that’s cheaper than my cell phone was when I lived in Texas.  I also use Skype a lot for video conferencing and even computer-to-phone calls.

There have been a lot of news reports here lately saying that it was illegal to use these services, because it takes away from the income of the telecom provider here.  I don’t think this affected expatriates like me as much as it did the much lower-paid workers that work way too hard for very little money.  Inflation is bad enough here without them having to shell out big bucks to call home.

Anyway, here’s a story from the paper today that explains the whole situation and finally gives an official stance.

Personal phone calls on Internet are legal

Published: Monday, 21 July, 2008, 01:57 AM Doha Time
By K T Chacko
Original link here

THE use of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), a technology that allows transmission of voice through the Internet, is legal in Qatar, an official yesterday clarified.

Putting to rest the confusion reigning over the issue, a spokesperson for the Supreme Council for Information and Communications Technology (ictQATAR) said: “There are no laws or rules that prohibit the use of the VoIP technology within the State of Qatar.”

In response to recent newspaper reports, the official said the Telecommunications Law 34 of 2006, “does, however, make it illegal for any person to provide telecommunication services to the public for a direct or indirect fee without a licence issued by ictQATAR for that purpose”.

Currently, the only two entities licensed by ictQATAR to provide such voice services to the public are Qatar Telecom (Qtel) and Vodafone Qatar, which is yet to start its operations in the country.

A large number of Qatar residents make use of the VoIP facility as it helps them to make cheaper or free international calls.

The basic requirement for availing of the service is a broadband (high speed Internet) connection, which in Qatar can be subscribed for a minimum monthly rent of QR200.

Further clarifying the official position, the spokesperson said: “Any person or business in Qatar may use VoIP services for their own use, but nobody may sell VoIP calls or services to the public or businesses without a valid licence.”

VoIP services convert voices into a digital signal that travels over the Internet. It is used for making calls from PC to PC, PC to phone and phone to phone. While calling a regular phone number, the signal is converted to a regular telephone signal before it reaches the destination.

In addition, wireless ‘hot spots’ in locations such as parks, cafes and airports allow people to connect to the Internet and make telephone calls using VoIP.

Asked about the legality of the popular services of JustVoiP, a company that offers Internet telephony, a legal consultant with ictQATAR told Gulf Times that while availing of it for personal use was not a crime, selling of vouchers to charge the credit of a JustVoiP account was illegal.

While Just Voip provides free calls to the USA, Canada, almost all countries in Europe and many other places, it charges as low as 23 dirhams per minute for calls to India. Qtel charges as much as QR2.64 per minute for calls made during peak time to the same destination.

Another company popular with Net users is Skype that also allows the public to make calls from computers. It offers free calls to other people on Skype and cheap calls to land phones and mobiles around the world.

To a question whether it is legal to pay the charge or top up a VoIP account online using a credit card, the official said as long as it was done for personal use, it was lawful.

“The focus of the ban is on resale of the facility without a licence. The Supreme Council for Information and Communications Technology is committed to encourage the availability of the latest technology (like VoIP) to Qatari citizens and residents.”

As an example for the illegal use of VoIP, she pointed out the practice of Internet cafes providing phone services to the public.

When her attention was drawn to a recent report where two Bangladeshis were found guilty of breaking Qatar’s telecom law by a Doha court, she said ictQATAR was studying the case.

Meanwhile, irrespective of an official crackdown, some Doha Internet cafes were found to be providing phone services to the public yesterday. To a question if it is not illegal, an Internet cafe operator said: “It is, but business continues as usual.”

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