Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Using Skype, Viber in Gambia "strictly prohibited"

The use of Skype, Viber or any other internet devices to make or receive calls at internet cafés in The Gambia has henceforth been banned.

According to a directive from the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, through a press release issued on Friday, offering of international and national calling services at internet cafés using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, such as Viber and Skype, is strictly prohibited and considered an offence, although no penalty is specified.
More and more people in the country now make calls via the Internet instead of using mobile phones or conventional landlines. 
“Anyone who is engaged in this activity is depriving the country of the much needed revenue from international and national calls, required for the development of The Gambia,” PURA says.
The Gambia News Online was reliably informed that telecommunications companies in the country have lodged a complaint to PURA, as regulator, that they are experiencing consistent drop in revenue due to reduction in the amount of money spent on recharge phone credit by the public. 
This is primarily due to increase in the number of people using internet cafés to make not only international but also local calls, which cost virtually nothing.
However, with this new directive, internet cafés are strictly prohibited from allowing their customers to use the internet to make or receive calls via Skype, Viber or any other internet services.
Implementing this directive would cause serious confrontations between internet café operators and many of their customers who have already used to making calls via these internet devices. 
Prior to this directive, operators did not have any control over their customers who buy time to surf the net. 
The only restriction some cafés have is browsing pornographic websites, other than that customers could transact any business they want to online. 
“This is going to make me lose a lot of customers,” an internet café operator in Latrikunda German said. 
“Apart from Facebook, most of the people come here just to talk on Skype with their people abroad; now if Skype is prohibited it means many people will not be coming here again.”
Using Skype to call at internet cafés does not attract any additional cost apart from the cost of the time one uses to access the internet. 
For instance, if someone pays D15 to browse the internet for an hour in an internet café, within that time the individual can talk on Skype at no other cost.
Skype or Viber does not allow for free voice call, computer to computer, but both parties communicating can see each other when using a webcam.
“The only time that I talk to my husband is when I go to the internet café,” said Fatou Njie, who says her husband has travelled to the United Kingdom for studies. 
Fatou, who is currently taking the West African Senior School Certificate Examination, said she is not having a phone that is Skype-enabled neither does she have a laptop through which she can communicate on Skype at home. 
“Now prohibiting Skype at internet cafés is just going to make it difficult for me to communicate with my husband for a longer time like we do on Skype.” 
Binta Sundundu, 30, was met at an internet café just after talking to her brother in America. 
She said: “When Ousman (her brother) wants to talk to me or my mother, he calls me on my mobile phone for me to go to the internet café so that we can talk on Skype for some time. 
“Now that Skype has been stopped, I or my mother will not be able to communicate with him for long because international call through telephone is very expensive.”
Internet calls allow Gambian expatriates, immigrants, and students abroad to maintain family ties by talking to their people for longer time at no cost. 
“Banning the provision of such services at internet cafés, in the long term, would only be detrimental to the people’s sense of belonging to their friends, families and loved ones as they will communicate less, and gradually lose touch,” said Nfamara Darboe, an activist.
Whilst the Gambia News Online has tried in vain to contact the regulatory authority for more clarification to the sudden directive, people are still finding it hard to come to terms with what they perceive as “technological retrogression”.


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