STC's ISP starts operations and sparks controversy

The opening of Saudi Telecommunications Company’s ISP subsidiary, Saudi Net has brought ca

The opening of Saudi Telecommunications Company’s (STC) ISP subsidiary, Saudi Net has brought calls for stronger regulation of the Internet service provider (ISP) market, from other influential ISPs.

At a meeting in Riyadh, 12 of the Kingdom’s biggest ISPs and the Chamber of Commerce & Industry examined claims that STC’s ISP had been exploiting its position, and offering leased lines on a free trial base to business users.

“There was a meeting between the Chamber of Commerce and the largest ISPs,” said the CEO of a leading Saudi ISP, who wished to remain anonymous.

“There is a grave concern amongst ISPs, that STC’s ISP [Saudi Net] would get an unfair advantage because of the mother company. There have been some cases reported that Saudi Net had been giving leased line access for two months so businesses could try the service. The ISPs want to watch the situation.”

Saudi Net could not be reached for comment.

Short Supply

Rashid Al Snan, executive director of the Jeraisy/Batelco joint ISP venture, Atheer, confirmed that there had been “claims that Saudi Net had been abusing its role, in offering free trials for leased lines.”

Leased lines have been in short supply within the Kingdom, as more businesses attempt to go online.

CEO of @net, Dr. Badr Al-Badr, added, “although there has been some improvement in the quality of service… the capacity of the DDN is low, there is lots of congestion.”

Saudi Net’s arrival in the market has generated other concerns, namely that the ISP doesn’t under any circumstances, gain access to the information in STC’s vast database, or get any other form of preferential treatment in the allotment of network facilities.

These basic fears have stoked calls for greater regulation of Saudi’s Internet market and particularly the relationship between Saudi Net and its parent company.

“The meeting in Riyadh was nothing official,” said Al Snan. “There isn’t really a regulator to stop improper behaviour. STC and KACST can do things without consulting the ISPs, like the recent string of price cuts.”

Currently, the only regulatory body within the Kingdom is KACST, which is primarily involved with the hosting of Saudi’s proxy service.

But whether the academic institution is capable of effectively regulating other areas of the Internet market is debatable.

Strong Regulatory Body

“It’s well know that KACST is not strong enough to counter STC,” said the anonymous CEO. “We need a stronger regulatory body, like the Higher Communication Commission or something like the US’ [Federal Communication Commission.] And we have no idea how long that might take.”

Al Snan added, that the Riyadh committee meeting had composed several letters detailing the concerns of the ISPs, which would be passed on to the relevant ministries.

However, there is no telling when the ISPs might see a response to their requests.

Regardless of the early allegations levelled at Saudi Net, there is evidence to suggest that STC’s ISP will prove serious competition for the Kingdom’s other ISPs.

“One interesting point about Saudi Net is that they are the much more professional than the rest of STC, this tells you the value of competition,” said the anonymous CEO.

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