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Panama suspends Net-phoning order

A report says Panama's supreme court has suspended restrictions on local Internet service providers that were intended to block Internet phone calls in that country.

Panama's supreme court has suspended restrictions on local Internet service providers that were intended to block Internet phone calls in that country, according to a report.

Spanish language Web site La Prensa said Tuesday that the high court asked Panamanian telephone regulators to deliver a report outlining the facts behind an Oct. 25 order that forced ISPs to block several Internet data ports, including those commonly used to carry voice-over-IP phone calls. In addition, the court immediately suspended the order.

VoIP enables voice calls between computers or regular telephones using the Internet, and is usually offered at steep discounts compared with standard long-distance telephone service. The technology is currently banned in a number of countries, including Panama, although that could change.

Phone services in Panama are provided under an exclusive contract with Cable & Wireless Panama, a joint venture between the government and the United Kingdom-based phone giant Cable & Wireless. That deal expires in January 2003.

Cable & Wireless has fought VoIP providers in the past, winning a 1998 lawsuit against VoIP provider Net2Phone that banned Internet phone service in the Cayman Islands.

The high court ruling came in response to a complaint from ISP Net2Net, according to the Prensa site.

Net2Net, a division of Panama-based Alianza Viva, could not immediately be reached for comment. A Cable & Wireless representative declined to comment on the suspension.

Analysts predict VoIP will take a big bite out of traditional phone services in the coming years as technical glitches are put to rest. According to a recent report by consulting company Frost & Sullivan, VoIP is poised to take off in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, and traffic in those areas could reach 57 billion minutes per year by 2008.