Saudi regulator denies blocking WhatsApp, Skype services

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Saudi Arabia’s Communication and Information Technology Commission (CITC) on Thursday denied media reports that it has blocked WhatsApp and Skype.

Al-Iktissadia newspaper had reported that the Saudi authorities were about to block the two applications because the CITC and the telecom operators of Skype and Whatsapp failed to reach agreement over how to monitor these applications.

BlackBerry has adjusted its features to comply with the commission’s requirements, allowing the company to provide its services in the kingdom.

Last month, the kingdom banned the use of Viber, which is hard to monitor and deprives licensed telecom companies of revenue from international calls and texts, according to Reuters.

“The Viber application has been suspended ... and the (regulator) affirms it will take appropriate action against any other applications or services if they fail to comply with regulatory requirements and rules in force in the kingdom,” CITC said in a statement on its website.

The regulator issued a vaguely worded directive in March warning that such tools as Viber, Whatsapp and Skype broke local laws, without specifying how, Reuters said.

Local media reported at the time that Saudi Arabia's three main operators Saudi Telecom Co, Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) and Zain Saudi had been asked to tell CITC if they were able to monitor or block such applications.

Mobile penetration was 188 percent by the end of 2012, CITC data shows. Saudi now has 15.8 million Internet subscribers and the average user watches three times as many online videos per day as counterparts in the United States, according to YouTube, according to Reuters.

Conventional international calls and texts are a lucrative earner for telecom operators in Saudi Arabia, which hosts around nine million expatriates. These foreign workers are increasingly using Internet-based applications such as Viber to communicate with relatives in other countries, analysts say.

(With Reuters)

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