PURA tells internet cafés: ‘Register or stop operations’

15 May
Voice over Internet Protocol, how it works

Voice over Internet Protocol, how it works (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Modou S. Joof

Internet café operators in The Gambia must register with the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, PURA, if they are to continue in business, a new directive from PURA states.

The new directive followed PURA’s April 19 order that banned companies and individual internet café operators from “offering dating and Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services” like Skype or Viper as a “commercially available service” to Gambians.

This latest directive obliges internet cafés owners to complete a registration form in which they are required to give details of their cafés as does the Internet Service Provider – name of internet café, physical address, number of computers installed, and services offered.

Prior authorization

In a public notice that runs from Monday to Friday, the regulatory authority said the registration form is available at PURA head office (on Kairaba Avenue) and also at the PURA website: www.pura.gm.

The complete registration form must be returned to PURA on or before 27 May 2013, if the café owners are to continue operation. It involves a non-refundable registration fee of D100 per internet café.

From now on, anyone wishing to establish and operate an internet café in The Gambia must apply to and receive prior authorization from PURA before starting operation, the multi-sector utility regulator said.

It claims this directive is in accordance with section 10 (1) (b) of the Information and Communications Act 2009.

 

Image representing Skype as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

Last month PURA said the use of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services such as Skype and Viber to offer national and international calls within Internet cafés in The Gambia “is strictly prohibited”.

 

Anyone who is engaged in this activity is depriving the country of the much needed revenue from International and National calls, required for the development of The Gambia, PURA claims.

Concerns

A follow-up April 26 statement issued by the Ministry of Information and Communications Infrastructure backed PURA’s stance, saying: “PURA have found it necessary to draw the attention of all operators of internet cafes of the criminal act that deprives registered internet service providers of revenue vital to their operations and to the revenue of the national treasury.”

However, the Dakar-based Article19 West Africa said: “The fact that the use of VoIP services is being prohibited in order to benefit phone companies is a concern.”  It calls on the PURA to immediately repeal the 19 April order in its entirety.

“Unless the government can demonstrate that this prohibition serves the public interest, the prohibition is likely to strengthen state control of the provision of phone services to the detriment of Internet- based services,” the free expression advocacy agency said.

FPI’s Lamin Jahateh contributed to this article.

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