Opinion: Saudi Telecom, a den of thieves

Published May 31st, 2001 - 02:00 GMT

By Dr. Mohamed J. Al-Hassan 

King Saud University, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 


Like many others, I was shocked and extremely upset as a Saudi Arabian, when I learned about the Internet services and prices available in other Arab Gulf states.  


As a matter of fact, I have a friend living in the United Arab Emirates and he was upset too. He said he’s not satisfied with the Internet services provided by Etisalat, the UAE telecom. I told him he shouldn’t since he is much better off than any of the Internet surfers in Saudi Arabia. 


And here’s why. The UAE telecom provides Internet services via phone line and Advanced Digital Subscriber Lines (ADSL) at a speed 40-50 KB/sec. True, the ADSL service is not at its maximum potential speed, but it is lightening fast when compared to the service provided in Saudi Arabia, which is available only via phone lines at three KB/sec. In other words, ADSL services in the UAE are 13 to 17 times faster than the services provided in Saudi Arabia. 


Price-wise the situation is just as untenable. In the UAE, ADSL services are available 24 hours a day, for the price of 250 Dirhams a month (250 Saudi Riyals). And because it’s ADSL, there is no need to call Internet Service Providers — you’re on line all the time. But in Saudi Arabia, we have to dial into the Internet via modem to the Internet service providers (ISPs), and we pay both the Saudi Telecom and the ISPs. In fact, we pay the Saudi Telecom three Saudi riyals per hour and around SR 180 a month goes to the ISP. A 24-hour connection, 30 days a month, would come to SR 2340 a month.  


Now consider the download ratio. The UAE ADSL user can download between 144 MB and 180 MB in one hour at a speed of 40-50 KB/sec, in comparison to 10.8 MB for the Saudi user at a speed of 3 KB/sec. So, to download what a UAE user would download in one hour, the Saudi user needs at least 13 to 16 hours, if he is lucky. In other words, Saudi users must pay not SR 2,360 a month, but 13 times that amount to get the same download capacity. 


What this all means is that the Saudi user pays SR 300 per one GB of data download, in comparison to SR 2.4 for a UAE user. In other words, we in Saudi Arabia, pay 125 times more for Internet usage than our neighbors in the UAE. 


But there’s more. 


Internet service in Saudi Arabia is not only expensive, but also bad. It is very slow, it constantly disconnects online users, and it’s next to impossible to download anything at three KB/sec. 


Then there’s the question of affordability. Residents of the UAE do not only pay considerably less for their Internet service, in relation to residents of Saudi Arabia, but it must also be considered that the annual income per capita in the UAE is around 2.5 times greater than that in Saudi Arabia. 


But let’s face facts. Why should the Saudi telecom cut into its millions of dollars worth of profits in order to provide technology at a reasonable price for its users? Why the rush? After all, the company monopolizes the market and can, therefore, milk people’s pockets to death. The longer the status quo continues, the more money Saudi telecom gets, even if it is unjust to the people it services. And its not only me who is saying that ― a high-ranking manager who works at the Saudi Telecom told me the exact same thing. 


What can we do? I do not have all the answers, but Internet services are available by satellite and the prices for such services are not only reasonable in comparison to the service we are getting now, but even cheaper. Furthermore, the service will be faster, more reliable and available to a larger segment of the Saudi people.  


If the Saudi Telecom wants to hold on to its customer base, its prices must be slash dramatically, and I mean by no less than 90 percent. In addition, the Saudi Telecom must provide ADSL services at speeds similar to those currently available in neighboring countries, and at prices that could compete with the services provided through satellite links. 


Am I being realistic when I expect the Saudi Telecom to listen to me? Sure I am dreaming. But I am one of those who are disgusted with the Saudi Telecom inefficiency and corruption. And since we are the ones who pay the bill for that inefficiency and corruption, we are more than eager to switch channels to a different and more trusted alternative. 


This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of MENA Report

© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)

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