Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is disappearing, at least in one country. As unbelievable as it may sound, VoIP use can land you in jail for up to 15 years. Apparently, VoIP is considered a potential national security breach in Ethiopia. Using a service such as Skype or Google Talk is frowned upon by the African government. It has issued a new law prohibiting VoIP in their country.
However, there could be a hidden agenda behind the law. The state owns ethio telecom and just might be protecting their interest in that revenue producing telecom provider. Jason Wisdom of Wisdom Consulting says “DPI (deep packet inspection technology) will be used to monitor enforcement of this new rule, because it can recognize the ports and channels that are used for VoIP communication." This includes Ethiopia with China and Iran as countries that use DPI as a means to thwart potential dissidents.
Ambroise Pierre from the Reporters Without Borders Africa service told BBC News "There's already a very strict control over written press, and last year several journalists were arrested, and now the government is tackling communications over the internet.”
ethio telecom however, puts a different spin on it, saying on their web site: “…after concentrating its efforts on education, health and agriculture, the Ethiopian government has decided to focus on the improvement of telecommunication services, considering them as a key lever in the development of Ethiopia.”
The company's goals include “being a customer centric company and building a sound financial company.” This implies that in the past these lofty intentions were unfulfilled. A company statement also gives weight to the impression that all has not been going well: “The Ethiopian government has reached an agreement with France Telecom, one of the world's leader telecommunication companies. This agreement will help ethio telecom to improve its management capability.”
Starving refugees in Ethiopia are more interested in donated food than in Skype restrictions
Even while humanitarian concerns rock the country, ethio telecom proudly offers internet connections via ADSL (Asymmetric Digital Subscriber Line) a data communications technology they say enables faster data transmission (2Mbps in this case) over copper telephone lines. They provide CDMA 2000 1x data + Voice. What percent of the population cares is another question.
An international cross-platform-technology-app calling service, KeKu which is popular in Ethiopia and available in more than 170 other countries could fill the VoIP gap.With KeKu you can make international calls from any phone number you register with them to any phone number in the world, with or without the Internet. The company's CEO, Manlio Carrelli said “KeKu can still operate despite the new law.” Like Skype, it is free to sign up and there is no contract. Unlike plain vanilla Skype, you can use any mobile phone or landline.
So, the 82,949,541 Ethiopian citizens aren't “land locked” when it comes to communications even though VoIP is out of reach - except for the brave who want to chance thumbing their noses at the government. People can still call out and receive phone calls the old fashioned way. Maybe some of those calls for help will get through to the rest of the world.