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Saudi asks telecom firms to block BlackBerry services by Friday

BBM services will be blocked if the three companies which provided Blackberry service in the Kingdom - Saudi Telecom Company, Mobily and Zain - were not able to reach an agreement with RIM, the Canadian company which produces the devices

  • By Abdul Rahman Shaheen, Correspondent
  • Published: 17:12 August 2, 2010

Riyadh: The Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) Monday chose Friday, August 6 as the cut-off date for blocking the Blackberry Messenger (BBM) service.

BBM services will be blocked if the three companies which provided Blackberry service in the Kingdom - Saudi Telecom Company, Mobily and Zain - were not able to reach an agreement with RIM, the Canadian company which produces the devices.

The agreement would involve service providers having the ability to decipher encrypted networks that allow customers to send data outside the country, without a local government being able to control the process.

The Al Arabiyah TV news channel quoted Saudi Communications and Information Technology Commission sources as saying Blackberry service in the Kingdom would not be stopped.

The channel said Saudi Arabia’s three providers and representatives of the Canadian company had met Sunday. The Canadian company promised to resolve the technical problem which might lead to the Blackberry service being blocked, the news channel quoted the sources as saying.

Saudi newspapers would not deny or confirm news that the Blackberry service in the Kingdom would be stopped. For its part, the Ministry of Interior, which is in charge of the country’s security, did not express an opinion regarding the ceasing or otherwise of the Blackberry service.

By so doing, the ministry was kicking the ball into the court of the CITC, which has so far not issued any statement regarding the service’s future.

Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Mansour Al Turki told the media that the ministry had no hand in the service. “This is the task of the CITC,” he said.

Informed sources told Gulf News that the three service providers would lose more than 700 million riyals (Dh 685 million) annually if the Blackberry service was halted in Saudi.

There are about 750,000 subscribers to the service. Sources said sales of Blackberries in the Kingdom in the past three years amounted to more than 1.2 billion riyals.

Many subscribers indicated they were apprehensive that the Blackberry service in the Kingdom might end after the United Arab Emirates decided it would stop the service in October.

In messages exchanged yesterday, many subscribers expressed anger and frustration about a possible end to the service they said they were addicted to. They accused the CITC of acting against the welfare and prosperity of citizens.

Gulf News has also noticed a recent sharp drop in local Blackberry sales.

Customers said the devices would lose more than 70 per cent of their value if the messenger service was stopped. Salim Al Omari, who owns a number of shops which sell the Blackberry, said sales of the device had dropped by more than 50 per cent since reports about the service being stopped were aired.

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