Ethiopia Criminalizing Skype: One Way to Keep the Cat in the Bag

by Matt Paulson

The Ethiopian government is flexing its censorship muscle in a major way. On May 24th, VoIP services became illegal in Ethiopia (Reporters Without Borders). The law was created to prevent national security concerns because VoIP services are a threat to the state-owned telecommunications provider, Ethio-Telecom. Internet cafes allowed access to VoIP to provide a much cheaper option for making phone calls than the high-cost calls of the national provider. Apparently not a desirable situation for profits.

Making as small as a 30-second Skype call will make you eligible for up to 15 years of prison time and a hefty fee. It's incredulous to think of as an American, but it's just another government mandate to add to the list for Ethiopians. Ethio-Telecom is also the nation's ISP, and they have installed a program that blocks access to Tor, the anonymous web browser. Earlier this month, the dutiful Tor developers published a workaround to assist Ethiopians internet users in remaining anonymous.

As mentioned in the blog Transforming Ethiopia, these kinds of drastic censorship measures are not new. It seems they prefer to abhor any technological advancements before embracing them. Credit cards and satellite dishes used to be equally detested, but the country is now flooded with the use of both. If the pattern were to repeat itself, then this could be a first step in a nationwide VoIP deployment, but the low rates of Internet saturation and speed in Ethiopia make that highly unlikely.

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