Gov’t Cracks Down on Internet Phone Calls

The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications has order­ed Internet cafes to “immediately stop” providing overseas phone calls through the Internet in an effort to regulate the use of unlicensed overseas phone call providers.

The ministry has run advertisements in Khmer-language newspapers since July 30 warning that operators who provide “voice-over Internet protocol”—the system which allows customers to make low cost overseas calls—will be “punished according to the law.” The ads will run through Aug 14, officials said.

“The use of the Internet for international calls has drastically affected the financial well-being of the government,” the ministry’s undersecretary of state Koy Kim Sea said.

Although the government ap­proved a law June 19 making overseas calls through the Internet illegal, they will not begin enforcement until Aug 14, when the ads stop running, Koy Kim Sea said.

Tax revenues on international telecommunications have been lucrative, generating approximately $23 million for the government in 1999. It accounts for almost 90 percent of the ministry’s revenue.

Approximately 40 Internet cafes still provide Internet calls and charge around $0.50 per minute, compared with the $1 per minute many cafes charge for international calls via telephones.

Internet cafes oppose the regulation, claiming the use of the Internet to make overseas calls is cheaper for customers.

That fact is not lost on the government, Koy Kim Sea said.

“We realize this is an inexpensive way to make international calls and is a good option for people without much money. The MPTC, in a matter of weeks or maybe a month or two, will soon provide and regulate this service for people,” he said, adding that costs will be “marginally more expensive.”

Some providers disagree with the ministry’s decision to begin regulating calls.

“If the government wants to stop these calls, then they have to stop MobiTel and Camnet—not me,” an employee with Riverside Web said. Although Riverside Web still provides VOIP service for around $0.50 per minute, the employee said the cafe is not sure whether they will continue it.

The government has no way of cracking down on Internet Cafes who use VOIP, the employee said.

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