June 15, 2012 - The Ethiopian government has banned the use of VoIP services like Google Talk, according to Al Jazeera. Using VoIP services is now punishable by up to 15 years in prison, according to new law dated May 24, 2012. This law actually passed last month, but mostly went unnoticed outside of the country. Ethiopian authorities argue that they imposed these bans because of “national security concerns” and to protect the state’s telecommunications monopoly.
Ethiopia only has one ISP, the state-owned Ethio Telecom, and has been filtering its citizen’s Internet access for quite some time now to suppress opposition blogs and other news outlets.
As for Skype and other VoIP services, the new law doesn’t just criminalize their usage, but the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology now has “the power to supervise and issue licenses to all privately owned companies that import equipment used for the communication of information.” It’s worth noting that, as TechCentral points out, the new law also prohibits “audio and video data traffic via social media.” It’s not clear how exactly the government plans to enforce this restriction, but a potential 15-year prison term will likely keep most people from using Skype in Ethiopia anytime soon.
Reporters Without Borders also reports that Ethio Telecom installed a system to block access to the Tor network, which allows users to surf the Web anonymously. The organization notes that the ISP must be using relatively sophisticated Deep Packet Inspection to filter out this traffic.
According to Internet filtering and censorship watchdog OpenNet Initiative, Ethiopia currently has the second lowest Internet penetration rate in sub-Saharan Africa and just around 700,000 of the country’s 84 million citizens had Internet access in 2010 (that’s the most recent data we could find). The average Internet speed in Ethiopia, says Akamai, is currently 622 kbps.