Nepali Times
This Is It
By-passing the public


The way the government's newly set up Crime Investigation Bureau (CIB) is cracking down against illegal call bypassers is so uncharacteristically ruthless, one can't help but wonder where this rare resolve stems from. Is there more to the story than meets the eye?

Why this sudden vindictiveness when it comes to dealing with VOIP (Voice
Over Internet Protocol) calls? The draconian measures include objectionable surveillance to detaining Internet Service Providers (ISPs): very unlike the lax and lackadaisical attitude to other far more serious crimes The government is missing the point here. The laws of supply and demand have ensured that international calls via internet is impossible to control. The real reason consumers opt to break the law is that Nepal has one of the highest rates for international calls in South Asia. For an international termination call to Nepal that should not cost more than 1cent per minute, telecom operators here charge up to 14 cents.

As with the American prohibition, the question must be asked why not legalise VOIP? This would allow one-fifth of the population working and living abroad to make cheaper calls home, expand telephony to rural areas thus spurring business and trade, attract investment and entrepreneurship and eliminate the telecom mafia that controls the illicit sector. Why should this be a problem?

The government's argument is that it is losing billions in revenue to illegal internet calls. So, let's get this straight: revenue is more important than providing an affordable service? Nepalis abroad pay through their noses when they call home, wasting their hard-earned riyals and dollars. Any government worth its salt would lower international call rates, license internet calls, and try to make money from the increase in volume of calls and taxes this would unleash.

Instead of devoting outrageous amount of money, resources and expertise in nabbing by-passers and snooping on unsuspecting subscribers, the wiser thing to do would be to legalise inbound VOIP calls. But while the government is less than willing to forego revenue it earns from international calls, illegal VOIP operators themselves don't want their service legalised and are exerting pressure.

Some big names are involved in the illegal VOIP business, and despite their denial some ISPs are involved in providing them bandwidth. Keeping it illegal benefits the operators, allows telecom companies to keep their rates up and allow SIM cards to be used for bulk bypassing. The only losers are Nepalis making international calls. "In all our operations we found that most of the ISPs and telecom operators are involved in the scam. Without their support, call bypassing is not possible," Rajendra Singh Bhandari, DIG at the CIB told me this week. Police complain organised crime is being carried out with calls made through VOIP because they are hard to trace.

VOIP has been legalised in many countries in the last decade and the Nepal Telecom Authority (NTA) is also considering distributing VOIP licences to qualifying ISPs with coverage of at least 25 districts and 13,000 VDCs.
There is however fierce opposition from within the telecommunication sector and even the CIB to this move.

Bhandari questions the motive of those pushing for the legalisation of VOIP when he says 99 per cent of all call bypassing has plugged and billions of rupees added to the state coffers.

However, even more suspicious is the motive of those who want to keep VOIP illegal. While the fear that few big shots would corner the market once VOIP licenses are distributed is valid, there is no alternative to opening up this market and allowing competition to lower rates and improve services better.

Ultimately, cheaper and better technologies always win out no matter what the restrictions. After all, customers should be king.

1. jange

Is there more to the story than meets the eye?

Typing error in the article. It should read:

Is there money to the story than meets the eye?

2. Rupesh, Kathmandu
Oh so naive! This is what happens when you let teenagers run amok in the newsroom... NTA or CIB for that matter do not bother about people setting up VOIP serrvices to call abroad. They are after the ones who bypass incoming calls from abroad, and make money illegally. Try calling your home landlines or mobiles while abroad, you start paying once it rings, only to realise that the phone is already bypassed by these leech-like crooks; some Bangladeshi married to a daughter of a corrupt fat woman must strike something to you...??? Police is going after the call by-passers like that Bangladeshi, not VOIP service providers in general...

3. Zhou
@Rupesh (I guess ", Kathmandu" is your second name)

Do you know that this is an English newspaper? Do you understand English? How did you manage to write that comment- using some translator?

The article talks about legalizing "inbound" VOIP calls- ask your father to buy you an English dictionary or look for it in your school library if go to one. In case you've never shopped books before, let me help you: the first place to look for them is Bhotahity, just next to Ratnapark.

4. RJ
I am confused. What is call bypassing?

The argument made on this article regarding legalizing VOIP makes sense. The business model of telecomm industry earning revenue using traditional phone lines is waning all around world. The next wave is Internet - more like Mobile Internet.

Last time I was in Nepal, I was so proud that we had 3G! Why can't I use my 3G to make calls, if using 3G was cheaper than say directly calling the number?

5. Neil
The illegality of internet calls puzzled me when I lived in KTM. Can't quite believe it's still an issue. Surely it's non of the government's business how people choose to communicate with each other. But if they really must have their pound of flesh then why not regulate and tax businesses providing a VOIP service?

Is wilful use of Skype an arrestable offence in the valley?

6. Phurpa Tamang
There are only old aged people, children and students of high school level youth can be seen in the rural area. Many youths have gone abroad for job. We do not know how they are doing in the foreign land. Because they might not have good education and skills to work. Although they have not choice to go as there is no job to get in new Nepal. Similarly, every year many students are also going foreign countries for higher degree studies.  When they are away from their homeland, obviously they remember their parents, relatives as well as friends. For that they want to communicate or share their feelings to their near and dear who are in Nepal. Telephone is the easy technology to communicate with the people from abroad to Nepal. Because every one does not know how to use other technologies of communication like internet, face book etc. When they call from abroad, they have to pay money in foreign currency. If such services or facilities available in Nepal in cheap rate, the family of those abroad people do telephone from Nepal. It gives two benefits. Firstly, the Nepali people get job in telephone booth opening and secondly,  Nepal government get taxes if such technologies is legalized. I hope the concern authority will hear such public voice as written by Rubeena Mahato.
Phurpa Tamang (Advocate)

7. Gaurav
This is the first time some good newspaper of Kathmandu has written this. I liked what you have written. I hope it gets into everyone's mind now that the slower we are in adopting VOIP, the more backward we'll be.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)