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Wed 26 May 2004 04:00 AM

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Internet could become "free" in Saudi

Internet services could become free in Saudi Arabia, according to reports.

Internet services could become free in Saudi Arabia, according to reports. A senior official of the Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) was quoted in an Arabic daily this month as saying that the CITC was currently studying proposals which would lead to a free or heavily discounted service.

The cost of internet access in Saudi Arabia has been a contentious issue for almost as long as it has been available to the general public, which began in 1999. The Kingdom’s main internet service provider is King Abdul Aziz City of Science and Technology (KACST), which works in co-ordination with CITC and Saudi’s telco Saudi Telecom Company (STC) to provide service to local ISPs. KACST, in line with STC, last month reduced its charges to local ISPs.

Saudi Arabia has an estimated 1.5 million internet users, but with an access rate of just 8% is far behind other countries in the region, such as the UAE.

Saudi users have to subscribe to an ISP using prepaid subscriptions cards. Local ISPs have long advocated a system along the lines of Egypt’s free internet model, which would see the subscription charge done away with, and the user only having to pay for the cost of the time they are logged in. The ISP could then split the cost of the call with STC. Advocates of this scheme claim it will help to increase the number of internet users in the Kingdom.

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