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Internet service to become free in Kingdom soon

  JEDDAH, 12 January 2003 — Internet service will soon be free in the Kingdom. An agreement with Internet service providers (ISPs) will be concluded shortly to provide the service for no charge, Al-Jazirah newspaper reported yesterday quoting an official source.

The source did not specify when the free service would begin but indicated that the agreement would be presented to Saudi Telecom Company (STC) after a meeting of the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s Internet Service Committee this week.

The source pointed out that free Internet service would increase ISPs’ profits as well as reduce marketing expenditures. At present, there are 27 ISPs in the Kingdom.

The new move comes in the wake of the Council of Ministers’ call in October for reducing end user Internet service charges. The Cabinet also emphasized the need to expand the bandwidth for Internet service.

The Cabinet ordered a crackdown on Internet service received through satellite dishes and warned of punitive measures, including withdrawal of licenses.

The Cabinet further stressed that all ISPs as well as Internet users in the Kingdom must abide by telecommunication regulations and Saudi Telecom Authority (STA) rules. Companies and individuals will be given a formal warning before punitive action is taken.

According to a study by the Internet Service Unit of King Abdul Aziz City of Science and Technology (KACST), there is an average of 15,000 users with each ISP; 74 percent of them use the service on hourly basis.

According to unofficial statistics, the Kingdom has the largest number of Internet users in the region — more than one million.

Another study showed that the majority of the Kingdom’s Internet users are single. The study found that students are more skilled in navigating websites than their teachers. A little more than 6 percent use the Internet for romance while 25 percent seek political information, the study revealed. Only 7 percent of the Kingdom’s students and teachers use the Internet.

STC introduced a high-speed ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) service for the Kingdom’s Internet users last July for SR220 a month. ADSL is a new technology that allows greater amounts of data to be sent on existing copper telephone lines.

STC has reduced the charges for international Internet links between KACST and the global network by 20 percent and cut the fees for all rented circuits by 45 percent, for linking ISPs with the national network by 30 percent and the charge for contacting network ports by 50 percent.

Dr. Saleh Al-Athel, president of KACST, urges STC to revise telephone call rates, saying they constituted 75 percent of the total cost of Internet use. “Reduction of telephone charges would boost Internet use in the Kingdom,” he stated.

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