September 19, Riyadh – Saudi Arabia has announced that it will lift its a ban on internet calls by Wednesday, September 20, in the latest regulatory move aimed at enabling internet users in the Kingdom.
The directive from the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology will allow all VoIP applications that provide voice and video communications over the Internet, such as WhatsApp and Skype, to be widely available to the users in the Kingdom, through its telecom operators.
The announcement comes in the context of a number of measures that will foster the Kingdom’s digital transformation and ensure the Internet serves as an empowering and safe space for both personal and professional use, in line with the goals of the National Transformation Programme.
High rates of internet consumption, especially when it comes to social media activity, is a trend the Kingdom shares with the West.
A government spokesperson said: “Digital transformation is one of the key kick-starters for the Saudi economy, as it will incentivize the growth of internet-based businesses, especially in the media and entertainment industries. Access to VoIP will reduce operational costs and spur digital entrepreneurship – that’s why it is such an important step in the Kingdom’s internet regulation”
Overall, the Kingdom’s policy is to enable internet users in the country to have access to all websites, services and applications. However, there are appropriate legal measures in place to bar content which violate the laws of the country – such as extremist content, pornography, gambling sites, or those which have children exploitation material.
The Kingdom makes every effort to ensure that website producers and internet users understand when content is in violation of the law. Users are clearly notified that they have been denied access to websites which have been blocked, whenever technically possible.
Addressing recent stories related to SnapChat’s decision to remove the Al Jazeera channel from the app, the spokesperson said:
“The Ministry’s recent cooperation with SnapChat to remove Al Jazeera, a harmful, propaganda-pushing channel that supports extremism, should not be considered in isolation or interpreted as a crackdown on free media. The Kingdom respects the principles of free press and freedom of information, as well as diversity of media.”
“The Kingdom strongly supports the growth of internet services in the country, for the benefit of our economic growth and to create jobs. At the same time, it takes every possible measure to ensure that internet users and producers comply with the laws of the country.”