Saudi Arabia is lifting a year-long ban on Skype and other services like WhatsApp and Snapchat, effective at 8PM ET today. According to a statement from Saudi Arabia’s telecommunications authority posted on Twitter, any voice and video apps that meet the rules will be allowed.
In the context of Saudi’s current economy, the ban lift makes sense. As oil prices plummet, Saudi Arabia is looking to the internet for more sources of revenue. In August, honesty app Sarahah, launched by a Saudi developer Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq, topped the most downloaded free apps charts in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store. Other similar startups are also drawing the attention of venture capitalists.
Leap Ventures partner Hala Fadel wrote last year that it was a prime time for Middle East nations to start investing in digital startups: “With 70% of the population under age 30, the Arabs are a hyper social and hyper digital population.” Saudi Arabia’s information ministry seems to agree with Fadel, saying that a digital transformation will boost the nation’s economy. “Digital transformation is one of the key kick-starters for the Saudi economy, as it will incentivize the growth of internet-based businesses, especially in the media and entertainment industries,” the ministry said in a statement today.
As Skype, WhatsApp, and others become accessible to Saudis again, the country’s three domestic telecoms operators — Saudi Telecom Co, Etihad Etisalat, and Zain Saudi — will face more competition and lose their current oligopoly. But tight regulations over the internet still continue, with restrictions on access to extremist, pornographic, or gambling-related websites.