Saudi Arabia's ISPs - Cost of Access: Arabs vs. West!

If you compare the cost of accessing the internet in the Arab region, versus what it costs in USA and Canada, you will find it much less favorable.

In the United States, a regular unlimited access monthly account would cost around 20 US$. Moreover, there are absolutely no charges per minute from the local phone company.

If you compare this to the United Kingdom, you will find that a new trend has started in 1999 by several companies offering completely free access, but the local phone companies charge per minute connect costs. The UK-based Internet Magazine in their July 1999 issue listed 23 free access providers operating in the UK.

In France, local calls are expensive and therefore the internet is not popular as it should be. The French mostly use Minitel for information services. Early in 1999, some advocacy groups in Europe declared a voluntary "no surfing" day to protest the high charges levied by telephone companies for internet access.

The following table summarizes the situation in the Arab world, compared to the USA and Canada. See the discussion below for details.

Country Usage Cost in US$ Hourly Charges US$ Monthly Total US$ Remarks
USA Unlimited Dialup 20.0 0 20.0 Thousands of ISPs provide this service and there are no local call charges.
Canada Unlimited Dialup 13.6 0 13.6 Thousands of ISPs provide this service and there are no local call charges.
  Cable TV 27.2 0 27.2 This is 1.5 Mbps, with actual transfer rates of up to 90 KBps
  DSL 27.2 0 27.2 This is 1 Mbps, with actual transfer rates of up to 50 KB ps
Emirates Unlimited Dialup 5.4 13.85 27.7 Assuming 1 hour per day
  Unlimited Dialup 5.4 27.7 55.4 Assuming 2 hours per day
  ADSL 103.25 0 103.25 This is 384 Kbps download, and 128 Kbps upload
Egypt Unlimited Dialup 26.4 15.6 42.0 Assuming 55 L.E. per month subscription, and 1 hour per day (@ 2 L.E. per hour)
  Unlimited Dialup 26.4 31.2 57.6 Assuming 55 L.E. per month subscription, and 2 hours per day (@ 2 L.E. per hour)
Saudi Arabia Unlimited Dialup 37.3 24.0 61.3 Assuming Cheapest ISP (140 SR per month subscription) and 1 hour per day (@ 0.05 SR per minute).
  Unlimited Dialup 58.6 48.0 106.6 Assuming High Cost ISP (220 SR per month) and 2 hours per day (@ 0.05 SR per minute)

As you can see, things are different in the Arab region, and here are the details:

In the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a new scheme was introduced in July 1999 where a flat fee of 20 Dirhams per month flat fee is used, and all hours are charged at 3 Dirhams per hour. Assuming 1 hour per day, a user would pay 20 + 90 = 110 Dh (about 29.8 US$). For 2 hours a day, this would be 20 + 180 = 200 Dh (54.3 US$). And again, in May 2000, new rates take effect. The prices will be reduced further to be 1.8 Dh per hour (normal hours), and 1 Dh for off hours. The table above reflect these latest prices. This makes the UAE the the lowest in the Arab world according to this DITNet article.

In Egypt, an unlimited account would cost about 55 LE, down from 80-90 LE a year ago, and the phone company would charge 2 LE per hour (0.10 LE per 3 minute). Assuming a person would use the internet for one hour a day, this adds up to 2 x 30 = 60 + 55 = 115 LE. Pretty expensive compared to the average income of an Egyptian, and on a dollar to dollar, more than double! Competition is high though, and subscriptions rates are dropping (as low as 70 LE per month for unlimited access in Spring of 2000, and then 55 LE per month in Winter 2000-2001). Also, new schemes of no-subscription access is being introduced (Spring 2000). You dial a certain number (preceded by a special area code) and you get the per-minute connect charges on your phone bill. This is great for low usage and travellers. However, at 0.20 LE per minute, it is quite expensive (for the heavy user) compared to regular schemes where the phone company would charge 0.10 LE per 3 minutes. New privatization plans for the telecom monopoly brings hope of xDSL high speed internet in Egypt.

In Saudi Arabia, an unlimited account would cost 190 SR, and the local phone company (STC) would charge 4.5 SR per hour. Assuming a person would use the internet for one hour a day, this adds up to 4.5 x 30 = 135 SR + 190 = 325 SR (about 86.5 US$). This is still a lot of money, especially when it is compared to the USA. If you consider the more expensive ISPs, at 420 SR per month, then the cost goes even higher ( 135 SR + 420 = 555 SR (about 147.8 US$), and if you are really a heavy user, using ICQ and IRC all the time, as well as voice/video applications (say 2 hours per day), then things get really expensive! (4.5 SR x 60 = 270 SR + 420 = 690 SR (about 183.6 US$)

It should also be noted that internet access is at 0.075 SR per minute, which is 33% more than regular local phone calls, which are 0.05 SR per minute.

When residential high speed services are factored in, the comparison even gets more unfavorable for the Arab world.

Companies in Canada offer High Speed Internet access for 40 Can$ per month (about 27.5 US$). The two forms are Cable Modem access (offered by Cable TV Companies such as Rogers) and Splitterless Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL - offered by Sympatico/Bell Canada).

Both offer access between 50 KiloBytes per second (DSL) to 90 KiloBytes per second (Cable), with a connection that is "on" for 24 hours, and no limit on time! All for much less than a person in the Arab world would pay for a mediocre dialup account!

Of course, there is almost no hope that the Arab world would have Cable TV installed anytime soon, since it requires major investment and digging up of all residential area. As for DSL, there is some hope that it could be available (at least there is no practical or technical limitation). However, with the national phone providers being state-run monopolies, there is little incentive for them to undergo major upgrades to their central office equipment.

One shining spot in the region is the United Arab Emirates, the country with most internet users in the Arab region. Integrated Service Digital Network (ISDN) has been available for business and residential users at reasonable cost. In fact the cost per hour for dialup and ISDN access in the UAE are the same, and prices have come down in summer of 1999, and again in May 1999. The UAE wants to be the trade and information hub of the region (with the ongoing construction of Dubai Internet City), and they are taking the necessary steps to ensure this would happen.

As of May 2000, United Arab Emirates is now offering ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line). It is being piloted by deployment to a limited set of customers.

The connection is "Always On", download speeds up to 384 Kbps, and upload up to 128 Kbps. Installation (one time charge) is 200 Dh, and monthly fees are 380 Dh. The price includes the rental for the DSL modem.

Resources:

If we in Saudi Arabia think we are paying too much and that UAE is cheaper in next access, there are those in UAE who disagree strongly. While access charges for Dialup users have gone down significantly, the ISDN users still pay considerably higher, with no reasonable unlimited access plan. Read all about it in the Etisalat Charges Too Much web site.

You can read another Comparison of Internet Access charges in the Gulf Region, Asia, and Europe. This comparison seems to ignore the fact that we in Saudi Arabia pay 4.5 SR per hour to the Saudi Telecom Company (STC) over and above any fixed and hourly charges by the ISP!!!

Likewise, there is the Campaign for Unmetered Telecommunications trying to promote the benefits of not provided metered access to the internet.

For a fuller discussion on the Internet in the UAE, visit #Dubai web site.


It appears that, at least in Saudi Arabia, users are recognizing the disadvantage that they have and are trying to do something about it. This Wired News Article on 4 October 1999 announces a boycott by many users on Friday 8 October 1999 in protest of high access charges. The article doesn't get the figures right though. The same boycott was announced in other newspapers (Al-Hayat, Arab News, ...etc.)
Next day, Arab News reported that the boycott did not go through as ISPs noticed the normal rush on every Friday.

The following exchange rates were used for currency conversion.

1 US $ = 3.75 Saudi Riyal (SR)
1 US $ = 1.47 Canadian Dollars
1 US $ = 3.85 Egyptian Pound (LE)
1 US $ = 3.68 Emirates Dirham (Dh)

You can get the latest currency rates from the following sites:

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Comments

dsl rates in Saudi Arabia

i found this article by searching cheap net in KSA, i face above fact personally about the expencive net in Saudi.
I think factor which raises the dsl prices is STC,which just charge a huge line rent by the name of dsl subscription, i was told by a local net company who provides dsl,that the just 110SR per month for STC will charge as dsl sub(the phone charges are not included in this amount)
The tarif goes double when you add dsl prices in it,
There will be many other people who dont have that amount to pay but it seems that are barred form the access or discouraged