Internet telephone is booming despite concerted efforts by the authorities to curb this illegal business of providing international call service at substantially cheaper rates than Qtel.
The authorities, in the recent past, have cracked down on Internet telephony by raiding shops selling Internet phone software and calling cards. Shops and apartments providing cheap call service can be found everywhere in the city, while a number of petty business owners still sell Internet telephone cards slyly.
One operator even purchased ten telephone units to cash in on the massive rush of callers. The rush is understandable since the rates are affordable to even low income workers.
"Prices are getting high while salaries remain low, so people look for ways to save money and one of them is availing the facility to make calls at competitive rates," an Internet phone provider commented.
This reporter yesterday surveyed the shops beside Grand Mercure Hotel (better known as Sofitel), which is a major hub for computer accessories, software and services; and found that no shop sells Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) software. Some shops have even posted notices which read: "Don't ask for Internet phone card".
"Qtel has banned sales of the software and phone cards," a shopkeeper said giving assurance that it is not anymore available in the country.
However, a former Internet phone user said that there are people secretly selling phone cards to regular customers whom they trust. "They won't sell if they don't know you," he said. He further stated that he didn't use it anymore for fear of landing in jail. "But I really saved a lot. For QR30, I could call my family for 40 minutes, I hope they would lift the ban since I need to call my family frequently," he added.
Communication Law 34/2006 prohibits the cheaper method of calling abroad since it is a 'misuse' of the country's exclusive communication services, and violators can languish in jail for one year as well as pay a fine of up to QR50, 000.
Recently two men were brought to court after using Internet phone service. A number of salespersons have also been deported after the crackdown few months ago.
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