Newer, Cheaper Internet Phone Calls Coming

A cheaper, Internet-based overseas phone call system will begin operation in about two months, government officials have said.

Officials said rates charged by the Voice Overseas Internet Protocol will be cheaper than state-owned and privately owned services, though they said it was too early to tell how much cheaper the new calls will be.

“I can’t say exactly how much it will cost, but it will be really cheap,” said Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications secretary of state Lam Phou An.

Details are still sketchy on the terms of the contract between the ministry and AZ, the Cambodian company charged with operating the new service. AZ will spend $7 million to build the system, said So Khun, Minister of Posts and Telecommunications.

AZ will also operate the service, but So Khun would not say for how long. “I want to keep it quiet, because we’re still waiting to have VOIP service,” he said.

AZ is run by Cambodian Ung Bun Hoav. AZ representative Keo Sitha also declined to comment on details of the deal, saying that AZ was a private company.

Lam Phou An said the debut of the system will coincide with a third crackdown on Internet cafes that have for nearly two years been providing what the government has said is unlicensed Internet-based phone service.

The government already an­nounced two crackdowns on the service this year, saying the calls take business away from government-controlled phone lines. But many Internet cafes still provide the service for as little as 300 riel (about $0.08) per minute to call Europe or the US.

“I’ve never paid attention to the government action. I just pay a little money to the officials and I can continue my career,” said the owner of a riverside Internet cafe who spoke on condition of anonymity.

More and more customers are making overseas calls via the Internet, said Sao Chan Sotheary, the owner of Le President Web cafe in Phnom Penh. “It will be very good for poor people if [the new service] will be cheaper than the government phone lines,” she said. “If the government’s new service is still expensive, customers will reject it.”

Internet phone users said they hoped the new service would improve on existing Internet phone service, which is plagued by static and transmission delays.

“I can’t listen clearly when I call my relatives at the Internet cafe,” said customer Kuong Thyda. But she worried that the new phone service would be too expensive.

So Khun said the new service would improve on transmission quality.

Government estimates on the costs of the new service and the new system have varied over the past year. In April another ministry official estimated that calls on the new system would run $1 a minute, and that the project would cost about $500,000.


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