A 30 second call made using a VoIP service such asVonage VoIP could result in the caller ending up with a 15 year jail sentence if the call was made in Ethiopia.
The government of Ethiopia has passed new legislation making it illegal to communicate using VoIP services from virtually every provider according to a news report from Al Jazeera.
The new law outlaws internet telephony and callers risk up to an eight year prison sentence and heavy fines if they are caught. The law was passed on May 24th. Callers who make use of legitimate VoIP services such as Vonage risk even greater punishment, with the potential to receive a 15 year jail sentence.
According to Reporters Without Borders, The government of Ethiopia enacted the law to bolster national security and restrict the flow of communication.
“The Ethiopian government is trying to attack every means of information exchange,” Ambroise Pierre, of RWB said.
Elizabeth Blunt former Ethiopia correspondent for the BBC says the law may be intended to protect Ethio Teleco the incumbent and only telco in the country.
“Internet cafes may be allowing people to make calls for far less than the cost of Ethiopia telecom, the state’s telecommunications provider that has the monopoly and charges very high prices — and doesn’t want to have its service undermined,” Blunt said.
Internet access in the country is fairly limited, with less than 360,000 Ethiopians or 0.4 per cent of the entire population having access to the World Wide Web in 2009 according to PC magazine. The magazine added that access to the internet from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa was very unreliable.
The country traditionally rejects and restricts new technology, only to reverse its position later and accept it. Less than 15 years ago, owning a satellite dish in the country was against the law and for a while even using a credit card was not permitted.