Eight months have passed since the Telecom Regulatory Authority (TRA) has decided to unblock many of the Voice over IP (VoIP) services widely available on the Internet, but Skype still remains blocked with no official statement clarifying the current status of VoIP in Oman.
VoIP is not technically a banned service in Oman, but the TRA requires any company that wishes to provide such a service in the country to apply for a licence from the TRA and abide by all the rules and regulations of the telecom law. There are some companies which are licensed by the TRA to provide VoIP service in Oman, such as Nawras, which provides a number of dial-in services for making VoIP calls to certain countries.
The TRA had traditionally blocked all forms of VoIP services from being accessed by users of the Internet in Oman. The most famous of these services is Skype. The TRA argues that it will not allow Skype to operate without acquiring a license in Oman to protect many public interests such as the protection of consumers, the support of the employment of Omanis, the collection of tax and the enforcement of the state security requirements.
These justifications cannot be taken seriously because the same arguments can be made against all other forms of online businesses and communication tools, such as Amazon or Gmail, but nothing other than VoIP had been categorically blocked. It is widely believed that the decision to block Skype has been made to protect the financial interests of local ISPs who make a lot of profits by charging their users for international phone calls.
Earlier this year, the TRA ordered telecom companies to unblock certain VoIP services such as Viber, Google Talk, FaceTime, and others, but not Skype. There was no legal change in the regulation of VoIP in Oman, and the TRA has not made any official statement as to why it has chosen to unblock these specific services.
Rumour has it that the TRA is considering removing the technical restrictions for blocking access to VoIP operated by foreign companies and that it is testing the impact of the allowed services before unlocking everything else. However, more than half a year has passed now and an official statement is yet to be seen.
The topic of VoIP regulation has recently come back to the forefront as Microsoft has decided to discontinue its Live Messenger and integrate the chat functionality of it in Skype. Live Messenger is a popular application in Oman and the inability of people to communicate with their work partners, family and friends using Messenger could be an issue to these people.
The TRA needs to make up its mind on the VoIP matter. Many parents now rely on Viber to communicate with their children who are studying abroad. It is also not unlikely for some small and medium enterprises to consider using the currently available VoIP services to facilitate their business operations. Having these services blocked again can easily devastate many.