October 08, 2007

The myth of VOIP being illegal

There was a thread in Drishtipat last January which elaborately describes about VOIP.

VOIP reduces cost of telecommunication drastically. It is now used all over the world in means of calling cards or other means like Gtalk. Most Bangladeshi diaspora uses this form of communications and also their relatives in Bangladesh.

In Germany we use a 5 digit number which has to be dialed before the Bangladeshi number and voila- teh bill is aggregated in our monthly bill). A VOIP call from Germany to Bangladesh was about 4 cent before Jan 2007 now its about 8 cents but my cell phone operator charges 1.51 Euro for a minute (even for a few seconds).

Now we should look at why the BTTB declared Jihad on the VOIP operators in Bangladesh. BTTB revenues were down and it did not take any measure to earn revenue from thousands of operators springing in every corner of major cities in Bangladesh. Even BTTB could embrace this technology and utilize its underutilized capacity.

Its very easy to setup a VOIP call terminating operation, you don’t need to be a big solution provider. Basically you just need a fast internet connection, some mobile telephone lines (did you notice in the caller ID of your phone that the calls to Bangladesh from abroad are channeled through a local mobile number?). Yes the accomplishes are very much the mobile phone operators and the ISPs. I think by paying the penalty GrameenPhone has reached some sort of settlement with the Government so that they remain untouched. Its a matter of commerce.

But why this crusade against the alleged illegal VOIP operators?. How illegal are they? The evolved as the Bangladesh backbone of the international VOIP market which is legal in most of the countries in the world (even in neighboring India)and they do it by paying tax to the govt. In Bangladesh the operators are small time entrepreneurs (most of them are some young techie who could find a small investor) emerged not to do anything illegal but to earn some money.

But without considering the rehabilitation for these smalltime entrepreneurs BTTB decided to declare them illegal and used Jihad against them confiscating their capital, the machinery and harassing them with RAB.

BTTB’s revenue rose significantly since then, that means Bangladeshis were calling more with normal Telephone channels of BTTB. If the scenario would remain this way it could be an arguable point.

But the reality is the Government is soon opening VOIP to 4 operators. One is BTTB and there is a huge fight for 3 others (possible contender Sena Kallyan Sangshtha and huge speed money is flowing in the air). The truth is BTTB will lose revenue again to these four operators. Instead of creating a legal market full of a thousand smalltime operators BTRC has chosen to confine it to 4 oligopolies who will dominate market. And for their market domination the drive against small time VOIP operators are required.

And then probably came this sinister plan of profiling each and every user, so that these four empires are not leaked off their business. And probably some authorities saw this as a opportunity to gag the internet users at a later time.

The problem is BTRC is not clearly telling why they require each and every internet users data instead of high profile bandwidth users/VOIP operators data (bloggers don’t take much bandwidth). If they say, doing voice chat is related to VOIP and illegal then you are busted. If your default Fedora/Linux distribution installs Ekiga soft phone, they can arrest you as a VOIP operator.

The Bangladesh Telecommunication Act 2001 promises rights and privacy of the users in line with the section 43 of Bangladesh constitution which is not suspended by the emergency act. In its 2006 amendment power has been given to the security forces to wiretap/demand information on specific charges.

But with this letter BTRC is crossing the line in demanding information from every user (without some specific suspects). The ISP association’s general Secretary has told BBC that it is matter of establishing control and security and threats of emails.

So there is much to worry because there are conflicting news within BTRC and the letter itself. Nobody is really sure what they are upto, how and by whom these information would be used? So it is every citizens right to be concerned if their rights are being violated for some sinister reasons. Are we getting proper communications from the authorities to dispel the climate of fear?


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