In a move set to benefit licensed telecom companies, Saudi Arabia’s telecom regulator has suspended Viber, the web-based communication application, throughout the kingdom.
In an official statement on its website, the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) said that “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.”
The application was widely-used by users to make free international calls, share texts and files over the internet. Saudi Arabia hosts about 9 million foreign expat workers, who frequently use tools like Viber to connect with friends and family by making free calls and sending texts. Huge traffic diverted through these tools makes the telecom companies suffer a significant loss of revenues.
There has been no official word on whether the application was found to be in breach of any regulatory requirements and rules. Earlier in March, the regulatory body slammed tools such as Viber, Whatsapp and Skype for violating local laws, but did not clearly mention how they were breaking the rules. The regulator had asked Saudi Arabia’s three main operators Saudi Telecom Co, Etihad Etisalat (Mobily) and Zain Saudi to inform CITC if it was possible to monitor or block such applications.
According to CITC data, telecom companies have enjoyed booming times in recent years. By the end of 2012, mobile penetration had reached 188 percent and there were around 15.8 million internet subscribers in the kingdom. YouTube’s mass popularity in the country is evident, with an average user watching three times as many online videos per day as users in the United States.
In recent months, the government of Saudi Arabia has pushed to assume greater control of cyberspace. While the government has officially denied considering stricter controls, it fears that Islamist militants were using social media tool to stir unrest in the kingdom.