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Skype boss doubts ME ban can work

The head of the leading Voice over IP (VoIP) service, Skype, has told ACN that any bans on its use by Middle East countries are likely to be ineffective but may hold back business growth.

The head of the leading Voice over IP (VoIP) service, Skype, has told ACN that any bans on its use by Middle East countries are likely to be ineffective but may hold back business growth.

In an interview with ACN, Niklas Zennström, CEO of Skype, said: “What I’ve seen in some places is where VoIP is illegal because it’s being used to bypass the national telephone company, with it being used in such a way where you’re connecting telephones to an adaptor that brings the calls out of the internet.

“What we are doing is a different kind of service. You’re using the software, you’re using your computer, so it’s not aiming to be a one-to-one replacement for your telephone.

“I don’t think that those lawmakers had particularly software or Skype in mind when they wrote the laws. Skype is more like any other type of online communication service like email, or instant messaging, or chat.”

According to the UAE’s Telecommunications Regulatory Authority, Skype’s provision of voice services contravenes the country’s Telecom Law. The website is blocked within the Emirates, as it is in several other Middle East countries, including Lebanon.

Anyone found using VoIP in the UAE is likely to have their internet access halted and may be prosecuted and fined. Skype credit cannot be topped up from a UAE account, as many banks will refuse to allow the transaction.

China, having banned the service at first, has since allowed Skype to be used, as have several Middle East countries including Oman.

“Even in places like the US, for example, the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) has said that Skype is not to be regulated as a telephone service,” said Zennström.

“The same thing in the European Union – the regulators say that Skype is an information service, it’s not a telecommunication service.”

Zennström said that he doubts there is actually a law in place that prevents the use of Skype in certain Middle East countries.

“I haven’t read law and I haven’t had any lawyers investigate it either, but I would be surprised if the law said that Skype is not allowed,” he said.

“If that was the case then we would encourage those lawmakers to actually change that.”

He also expressed scepticism that government action would be able to stop people using Skype. “It is, I think, impossible to maintain the ban,” he said.

“We have users all over the world and we have people benefiting from it everywhere. A lot of the end users’ economies are benefiting. There’s much more cost-efficient communication, which is great for them and great for those countries.”

According to Zennström, 25% of Skype customers are business users, and the service is attracting 250,000 new users a day. Skype will shortly be introducing a new video calling facility, and is working on VoIP for handheld and wireless devices, which Zennström says will allow business users to save money on roaming charges.

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