Update (7/2/2012): According to some news organizations, Ethiopia’s telecommunications law is in draft form and has not yet been ratified, despite earlier media reports to that effect.
Ethiopia’s new telecommunications law, which was ratified last month, essentially makes the use of Internet-based communications like Skype and GoogleTalk a crime punishable by up to 15 years of jail time.
According to The African Review, the new telecommunications law “strictly prohibits VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) which includes audio and video related social media communication, and the transfer of information packages through the fast growing global cyber networks.”
Although Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of Internet penetration in the world–about 1 percent of its population has access to the Internet–Africa’s second most populous country has strict laws governing Internet service. Its state-owned telecoms carrier Ethio Telecom is the country’s sole Internet Service provider.
Ethiopia had previously banned the use of VoIP by private users, but this new legislation adds criminal penalties that include significant fines and jail time. The new law also allows the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology to supervise and issue licenses to all companies that import communications equipment.
The Ethiopian government justifies this law as a move to protect its national security interests and its state-owned telecoms carrier Ethio Telecom from revenue losses to Internet communications services like Skype.
At the same time, reports indicate that Ethio Telecom is likely utilizing deep packet inspection (DPI) to block access to the Tor Network, which allows users to browse anonymously and access websites blocked by censors. The fact that the country is using DPI, means that they could potentially leverage that technology to detect when citizens use VoIP and thereby increase enforcement of their new law.