Omantel continue to pressure the Telecomms Regulatory Authority and the ROP to arrest people providing VOIP (voice over internet protocol, ie skype) services.
If you own or run an internet cafe, it is illegal in Oman to sell 'internet phone cards' or to enable people to use Skype or any other VOIP.
Oman cuffs 212 for selling VoIP calls
This year, police in the Arab nation of Oman have raided 121 internet cafes throughout the country and arrested 212 people for providing VoIP services, according to a local report.
"Around 212 accused of various Asian nationalities have been arrested since the beginning of the year [until October 26]," a senior police officer told Middle East and North Africa news outfit Menafn.
Providing telecom services without a license is illegal in Oman, and that includes VoIP. Those who violate the law stand to be fined 50,000 Omani Rial (about 130,317 US dollars) or spend two years in jail or both. The senior police officer, who requested anonymity, told Menfn that both cyber cafes and individuals had been using VoIP to provide cheap international phone service, saying this resulted in huge losses for local telecoms.
"Most arrests were made after the Directorate General of Inquirires and Criminal Investigation was tipped off about people using the internet and some technical device to sell the cheap calling cards," he said.
Omantel maintains a total monopoly on Oman's international telecommunications. NAWRAS are a retail competitor, but even they are forced under their licence agreement to get their internet and overseas access only via Omantel. Omantel have also for years been blocking access to the official skype website* and interfering with skype packets.
As a result of this monopoly power, Omantel have been milking the population of Oman for years with expensive international call rates. And now they are continuing to protect their super-tax by using the law to bust people using VOIP. These are people who are among the poorest in the country. Rich people like me (and you, if you're sensible) run Skype at home on our own computers. (Actually, I don't know if home use of skype is legal either, hmmm...)
Meanwhile, Omantel management are free to waste hundreds of millions of dollars on useless overseas acquisitions like WorldCall Pakistan. Their cash purchase of a majority stake in WorldCall Pakistan from an Omani businessman [Sheikh Sulieman Ahmed Said Al-Hoqani] in late 2007 has been a total disaster. They paid US$190 million at 25 Pakistani Rupee per share for 65% of the company, a suspiciously large premium even at the the time. Their investment has since plummeted in value (see graph).
Chart: Omantel have blown $170mln our money on a useless Pakistani company WTL.KA
The shares were trading at around 3.5 PKR per share today, about US$0.04 cents, compared to Omantel's purchase price of 25PKR, equiv then to around $0.42 cents. So they've lost around 90% of their investment - around US$170 million - plus need to inject even more cash. That is comparable to around 6 months of profits.
Last month, Arabian Business reported that Omantel need to inject another $50 mln into Worldcall, following ever building losses ever since they took over.
... Omantel, Oman's largest company by market value, is also waiting for shareholders to approve a $50 million injection into its Pakistani unit Worldcall, Mamari said. The group is still deciding whether to use equity or raise debt to finance the injection.
Omantel bought 488.8 million shares of Pakistan's Worldcall Telecom Ltd, equivalent to 65 percent of the company, in February 2008. The $193 million deal marks its biggest foreign investment so far. But Worldcall's shares have fallen sharply since.
So I guess Omantel will need to keep the ROP arresting people to stop VOIP while it continues to bleed the population for massively expensive overseas phone calls. Omanhel are also making 134 people 'voluntary redundant' to reduce costs too.
Meanwhile the money is being used to subsidise Omantel's failed business adventures overseas.
And thanks TRA and the Government too. Remember, Omantel is a majority Omani Government owned company. The Government clearly doesn't mind that Omantel is taxing the most vulnerable people in the country with massively inflated charges to subsidise their failed (and suspiciously expensive) overseas investments.
So thats alright then.
* A question for the lawyers: how is Omantel's blocking of Skype allowed under either WTO or US FTA rules?