Saturday, February 10, 2007

Blue Screen of Censorship for TECOM

The papers today are awash with stories related to telecoms: Emirates Toady headlines with a story about rumours of a third entrant into the retail market in the UAE. TRA denies all knowledge.

Gulf Snooze carries a couple of stories, one that says conventional telecoms companies need to embrace VOIP or die (I paraphrase). The other brings us the good news that du (the new telco, soon to start mobile operations) will be connecting TECOM to the proxy any day now and therefore that Media City's tagline 'Freedom to Create' becomes even more meaningless than it has been up till now. Interesting to note that du, the monopoly-breaker, will still have a monopoly within TECOM, Emaar and Nakheel properties. Du is 20% owned by TECOM Investments, who about a year ago took over SahmNet, Emaar's own telco. As TECOM is wholly-owned by Dubai Holdings (who also own propery developer Nakheel), they are given preference in supplying telecoms infrastructure to all new Nakheel developments.

Of course, it is not fresh news that the Broxy will be imposed on TECOM (collectively Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City and Knowledge Vamlet). But what is interesting is the disingenuous tosh used to justify it. Gulf News says:

Asked why users were not free to choose what sites they visit, Mohammad Al Ghanem, director general of the TRA, said the TRA was not out to "police" the citizenry of the UAE.

"We are not inventing a procedure or a process," he told Gulf News. "This is implemented in every single country but with different limits and different categorisations."

Mr Al Ghanem, that is not an answer...

Al Ghanem said the TRA desired to avoid any negative impacts on businesses residing within the free zones, and promised exemptions for companies with a legitimate interest in keeping unfettered internet access.

Breaking with the commonly perceived notion that the free zones had their own sets of telecommunications laws, [Mohammad Al Gaith, the TRA's manager for technical affairs] said the reason the free zones weren't previously covered under the filter was technical, not jurisdictional.

New telecom operator du provides Internet service in the free zones, and problems had arisen over implementing the proxy filter over du's network.

Mr Al Ghaith, I have been a tenant at Dubai Media City since shortly after its inception 6 years ago. I can tell you that the reason these free zones were not previously proxied was neither technical nor jurisdictional. It was a deliberate decision by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum who, in his wisdom, realised that these entities would not be very attractive to potential international clients if their Internet access was censored. That reason is still valid today

Can somebody please explain to me why the Telecoms Regulation Authority thinks it is fit to tell me, or any other Internet user, what sites we can and cannot visit? I know there is a cultural thing with the locals and some others, but surely if they want a restricted Internet then they can request and be given that. For everyone else, we pay more than twice as much for Internet access than anywhere else in the real world, and I think you, the TRA, should respect that and let us have (more or less) unfettered access.

I am sick to death of being treated like a child by these people. Apart from anything else, their obsessive, frequently unreasonable, often illogical blocking of millions of websites, including some of the world's most popular (Flickr again) makes me cringe with embarrassment. We are supposed to be the most free of all Gulf States, but we block Flickr because some wastafarian tells us to.

I despair. And my FTP and HTTPS are still not working.

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