Costa Rican telco lobbies to criminalise VoIP

Holding back the tide

Costa Rica's state-owned telecommunications monopoly is lobbying to criminalise internet telephony. The Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE) is pushing for stringent controls over VoIP that at their most draconian could make internet telephony a crime, Costa Rican daily La Nación reports.

According to the paper, 20 per cent of Costa Rica international calls are made using VoIP rather than over conventional phone circuits. ICE argues that VoIP ought to be treated as a substitute telephone service and regulated more tightly than data services. It reckons tough rules against "unlicensed operators", including criminal sanctions if necessary, are needed.

P2P VoIP services such as Skype are popular in Central America. Vonage and other US carriers also sell VoIP services in Costa Rica and its neighbours. These market developments threaten the revenues of incumbent telecoms operators. Panama has also sought to curtail internet telephony, in response to loss of revenues which could have been ploughed back into the country's telecoms infrastructure. Such concerns may be reasonable, but it is doubtful if technical measures such as blocking ports used by VoIP traffic will ultimately prove effective. There's also the risk that protecting state telco revenues could harm a country's wider economy.

Costa Rica is a centre for software development in Central America. La Nación quotes unnamed officials at a software development agency who said that low-cost telephone services are vital to the growth of the country's software development and outsourcing businesses. ®

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Related links

La Nación report (in Spanish - registration required)

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