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When I first met Hüseyin, he’d just returned from a short weekend trip to his sister’s engagement party in Istanbul to Moscow, where he works. Hüseyin is 27, and an engineer who does planning work for big construction projects.

 

He showed me pictures of his family. “I’m trying to get better at photography. My sister didn’t know I was coming, and I surprised her. I bought a new lens to take really good portraits of her on that special occasion. Isn’t she beautiful?” Flipping through the photos and pointing out his brothers, parents and nephews, I could sense how close he is to his family. “How do you keep in touch with them, since you live in Moscow?” I wondered. “Oh, Skype is my savior,” he replied. “It reallys sucked when I was working in Oman, though”.

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Hüseyin with his camera

 

Hüseyin told me that he skypes with his family several times a week. He loves speaking with his young nephew especially, since he helped to take care of him when he was still a toddler. Video calls with Istanbul are a fixed part of his routine, and help him keep strong ties with his relatives as well as providing a sense of stability while living abroad. Three years ago, when he was on a project in Oman, that was much more difficult. “I hated Oman. I was stuck in the middle of the desert. I lived a short walk from the building site, with a bunch of other men. There was nothing around us, nothing to do. For nine months! And I couldn’t skype with my family. They don’t allow it, because it shows your face I guess. And you could do naughty stuff. But for me it was really hard, not seeing my nephew and my parents and siblings. I left when I had the chance!”

 

I was surprised when I heard that Oman blocks video calls. Thinking about it, it doesn’t seem that strange for a Muslim country, but it had never crossed my mind. A bit of research showed that Oman’s strict Telecommunications Law means that any voice-over-IP provider needs to apply for a licence to provide their services. The Telecommunication Regulatory Authority argues that this is in the public interest, since forcing providers to register with them will empower consumers should they chose to take legal action against the provider in the future. In reality however, it is difficult to take this reasoning seriously. Services like Ebay and Amazon are seem to be operating freely in the country – shouldn’t the same concern for customers extend to them? This is why the internet speculates that, additionally to possibly religious reasons which Hüseyin hinted at, economic interests might be at play. The government is a majority shareholder of the main local telecommunication company Omatel, which stands to lose a lot of revenue if people switch from making expensive long distance calls to virtually free VoIP calls.

 

The decision to not-license Skype, Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts and other is certainly unfortunate. Of course, not every highly skilled expat like Hüseyin will choose to leave Oman because they cannot video call their family. However, in the grand scheme of things, VoIP and the opportunities it provides is an integral part of modern technology, one that families, businesses and educational institutions in Oman are currently missing out on. Unless you go down the route of using VPN or illegally unblocking Skype, that is – which, of course, nobody does.

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Hüseyin: “Skype is my savior”

Lea Bauer ist als InnoLab-Korrespondentin auf der Suche nach spannenden Geschichten zur Mediennutzung, unterschiedlichen Kommunikationsformen und Tech-Trends rund um den Erdball. Ist WhatsApp eigentlich auch in China angesagt? Wie sieht es mit der Digitalisierung in der Mongolei aus? Und was ist die heißeste Innovation aus dem Silicon Valley? Lea berichtet in ihrer Kolumne von den Menschen, denen sie auf ihrer Reise begegnet und gibt wertvolle Einblicke in die Medienwelt außerhalb Deutschlands. Lea ist Absolventin des MBA Medienmanagement 2009 und hat danach vier Jahre bei Google gearbeitet. Weitere Infos zu ihrer Unternehmung könnt ihr auf Leas Blog nachlesen.