Internet in Egypt
The Internet in Egypt is built upon a modern infrastructure, including widespread broadband Internet access via ADSL. Internet freedom in Mubarak's Egypt was rated as only "partly free" by U.S. NGO Freedom House. It remains to be seen how this will change in the post-Mubarak era.
- 1 Penetration
- 2 Broadband access
- 3 Internet exchange points
- 4 Fair usage policy debate
- 5 Performance improvement
- 6 2008 marine cable damage
- 7 Censorship
- 8 See also
- 9 References
Egypt's Internet penetration rate grew from less than one percent in 2000, to 5% in 2004, and to 24% in 2009. This ranks Egypt 110th out of 203 countries, slightly ahead of its neighbors Lebanon (24%) and Syria (20%) and slightly behind Jordan (26%). The international bandwidth and VoIP Internet markets have been liberalized. More than 200 Internet and data service providers operate in Egypt, making its ADSL services among the cheapest in Africa. As the information and communications technology (ICT) sector continues to grow, Egypt’s spending on ICT reached $9.8 billion in 2008 and is expected to increase to $13.5 billion by 2011.
As part of the Egyptian government’s ambitious program to expand access to ICT, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT), National Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (NTRA), Egyptian National Post Organization (ENPO) and Computer and Software Department at the Federation of Egyptian Chambers of Commerce signed an agreement to spread personal computers for every home in August 2008. The agreement is the second phase of a 2002 initiative and is part of the MCIT’s strategy of increasing ICT use throughout Egypt, focusing on socio-economically disadvantaged communities. The initiative includes offering discounts on computers and 512 kbit/s ADSL subscriptions for three years.
Telecommunications companies also work to enable users to access Internet content. For example, Egypt’s Vodafone, which has 15 million subscribers, announced in August 2008 that it will buy a majority share in Sarmady Communications (Sarcom), an online and mobile content provider. The move was widely seen as part of a wider strategy to dominate Egypt’s Internet market by providing both Internet service and content to customers.
Telecom Egypt, which has a monopoly in the fixed-line telephone sector, owns a 45 percent stake in Vodafone Egypt and had 11.3 million fixed-line subscribers at the end of June 2008. Telecom Egypt leases parts of its network to other Egyptian mobile operators, who use it to provide calls between mobile to fixed-line phones, as well as international calls. In 2008 the government announced it would sell a second fixed-line license, ending Telecom Egypt's monopoly, but plans to do so have repeatedly been delayed.
Almost a million Egyptian households have access to broadband, thanks to sharing of ADSL lines. Of these, 63.4 percent share the connection with their neighbors; 81.9 percent of households that share lines share them with more than three other households. Egypt had more than 400,000 ADSL lines by the end of 2007, 75 percent of which are residential. More than one fourth of Egyptian Internet users visit Internet cafés to get online.
Broadband Internet access was introduced commercially to Egypt in 2000 as ADSL. The service was offered in select central offices in big cities such as Cairo and Alexandria and gradually spread to cover more Governorates of Egypt. There are numerous (220 according to regulatory authority numbers) Internet service providers (ISPs) in Egypt offering an ADSL service. Four companies own the infrastructure and they are called class A ISPs: (Egynet, LINKdotNET, TE Data, and NOL). Etisalat Egypt has bought both NileOnline and Egynet to expand their Internet presence. They sell to class B ISPs (8 major companies) which, in turn, sell to the rest of the 208 ISPs.
Broadband connections in Egypt vary in quality. The quality depends on the distance from the central loop office, the presence of the ISP in that local loop, and the quality of the copper telephone line on which the broadband connection is carried. Internationally, Egypt is currently served with three international submarine cables. namely, FLAG, SEA-ME-WE 3 and SEA-ME-WE 4. but after the mass information blackout of early 2008, with the announcement of Telecom Egypt owned cable TEnorth and Orascom telecom owned MENA. several other projects are planned to improve the resilience of the international broadband.
Internet exchange points
Egypt has two Internet exchange points: Cairo Regional Internet Exchange (CR-IX) and Middle East Internet Exchange (MEIX), the former carrying international, as well as domestic, services. Reports related to the 2011 Internet shutdown in Egypt refer to the "Ramses Exchange" as the location where the shut down was effected. The Ramses Exchange, located on Ramses Street near the center of Cairo  is the main "wire center" for Telecom Egypt, carrying not only municipal telecommunications traffic, but also serving as the main point of entry for international submarine fiber-optic circuits, back-hauled from landing stations near Alexandria. The Ramses Exchange is also the location of the CR-IX, the largest Internet exchange in North Africa or the Middle East.
Fair usage policy debate
|This section does not cite any references or sources. (May 2011)|
The Minister of Communications and Information Technology, Dr. Tarek Kamel, said in the July 2007 news that the ADSL would be turned from Unlimited to Limited with a Quota at a starting price of 45 LE (Egyptian pounds) for the 256k/64k and a 2GB limit for the download and so on. Due to the widespread use of local line sharing that limited ISPs' subscribers and increased the burden of traffic upon the network. However, almost all the ADSL users, especially the students and users of unlimited ADSL, refused the offer. Most users had come to the conclusion that, if this plan were to be imposed, they would cancel their subscriptions because they wanted the Internet to be unlimited as is.
The plan was to start the limited ADSL Packages on 1 September 2007. It turned out that Dr. Tarek Kamel was to aim specific offerings at different price ranges for different individuals unable to subscribe to an unlimited package. As such, the unlimited packages remained as is, and available through all major ISPs with no changes in price, while the limited ADSL price ranges are now offered at a discounted price. with the existing unlimited policies with no fair usage policy except for ADSL2+
Introduction of ADSL2+
In April 2008, ADSL2+ was introduced in Egypt at speeds up to 24mbit. Now most ISPs have capped all the unlimited ADSL offerings to a quota of between 100GB and 150GB per month, calling it a Fair usage policy. All speeds from 256k/64k up to 24mbit are capped to up to 150GB per month. ISPs stated that the 150GB quota was huge and users could download up to 60 large movies, 10,000 large songs, browse endlessly and send up to 2 million e-mails a month. Most users are divided upon this capping especially those who are heavy P2P users. Going above the monthly quota would result in throttling speed of 64kbit/s for the rest of the month.
There is an alternative offer from 256k to 2mbit ranging from 2GB a month to 15GB a month as a fair usage coverage with reduced prices to encourage low range users to the uptake of broadband.
Confusion about capping
Most ISPs, even though are capped to 100-150GB a month, still claim the offers as unlimited. Also, companies use vague and inconclusive responses about the Fair Usage Policy and its implementation of different packages. The ISP's websites got the FUP in English and placed in hard-to-navigate places plus most of the technical support and representatives are denying that any FUP is in place, which is felt by the end user to be in place, possibly in fear of customers canceling their subscriptions at the thought of being capped.
The service has improved dramatically as of late, in terms of performance, during the whole of 2007 till now due to the investment of all parties involved in the providing of Internet in infrastructure heavily. according to NTRA the total international bandwidth at the end of 2009 is 90458Mb and number of ports 970557. which is seeing a dramatic increase from the first quarter of 2009 of only 16,995 Mb.
2008 marine cable damage
TE Data users were not totally disconnected from the Internet, as the company had a third international gateway to the Internet, SMW3. However, they suffered from reduced bandwidth until the issue was resolved.
The local National Telecom Authority has issued a decision for all ISPs to offer a free of charge month to all clients as a compensation for the reduced quality of service during the outage.
While the Internet in Egypt was not directly censored under the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, his regime kept watch on the most critical bloggers and regularly arrested them. The success of the 2011 Egyptian revolution offers a chance to establish greater freedom of expression in Egypt, especially online. Reflecting these dramatic changes and opportunities in Egypt, in March 2011 Reporters Without Borders moved Egypt from its "Internet Enemies" list to its countries "under surveillance" list.
In March 2012 Reporters Without Boraders reported:
The first anniversary of Egypt’s revolution was celebrated in a climate of uncertainty and tension between a contested military power, a protest movement attempting to get its second wind, and triumphant Islamists. Bloggers and netizens critical of the army have been harassed, threatened, and sometimes arrested.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has been leading the country since February 2011, has not only perpetuated Hosni Mubarak’s ways of controlling information, but has strengthened them. Numerous journalists and bloggers seeking to expose the abuses committed during the pro-democratic uprising by certain elements of the Army or the military police have been prosecuted before military courts, and sometimes jailed for several months.
A number of Egyptian ISPs offer optional filters to block pornography; TE Data offers Internet services with content controls which eliminate “all of the Internet’s indecent content that might affect your children”.
In 2005 Egyptian authorities continued to both encourage and place restrictions on the use of the Internet. For example, in February, Egypt’s Ministry of Interior ordered Internet café managers and owners to record their customers’ names and ID numbers and threatened to close the cafés if they refused to comply. This action was condemned by the Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, which described it as “a gross violation to the right to privacy”. In August 2008, authorities increased the level of surveillance by demanding that Internet café customers provide their names, e-mail addresses, and phone numbers in order to receive a text message on their cell phones containing a PIN that they can use to access the Internet.
As the Egyptian blogosphere continued to grow, so did the government’s crackdown on bloggers and Internet users. For example, blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil Suleiman Amer (“Kareem Amer”) was sentenced in February 2007 to four years in prison for “incitement to hatred of Islam” on his blog and for insulting the president. He has since become the symbol of online repression for the country’s bloggers. Other Egyptian bloggers have also been arrested for their online activities, and some have been sentenced to prison. One example is Mohamed Refaat, editor of the blog Matabbat (matabbat.blogspot.com), who was arrested in August 2008 under the state emergency law. He was charged with “offending the state institutions, destabilizing public security, and inciting others to demonstrate and strike via the Internet”.
In a landmark 2007 legal case, an administrative court rejected a lawsuit brought by a judge calling for the banning of 49 Web sites in Egypt. The court emphasized the support for freedom of expression as long as such Web sites do not harm the beliefs or public order. However, in May 2009, a Cairo court ruled that the Egyptian government must ban access to pornographic Web sites, because they are deemed offensive to religion and society’s values. The suit was filed by a lawyer who pointed to an Egyptian man and his wife who were sentenced to prison for starting a swingers club via the Internet as an example of “the dangers posed by such offensive Web sites”. It remains to be seen whether the authorities will enforce this court order.
Egypt has witnessed an increase in the use of Facebook for social activism, which alerted the government to the potential force of the site. As a result, there were rumors that it might be blocked, especially after a group of activists managed to recruit supporters using Facebook for the 2008 Egyptian general strike protesting against rising food prices and President Hosni Mubarak’s government.
On 28 March 2011, military officers arrested the 25-year-old blogger, Maikel Nabil, at his home in Cairo. The military prosecutor charged him with "insulting the military establishment" and "spreading false information" for blogs that criticized the army's role during anti-government protests. On 10 April a military court sentenced Nabil to three years in prison, in what Human Rights Watch called a serious setback to freedom of expression in post-Mubarak Egypt. Not only was the sentence severe, but it was imposed on a civilian by a military tribunal after an unfair trial. Along with close to 2,000 other detainees, he was granted a pardon and released on 24 January 2012 after spending ten months behind bars. Immediately after his release, he once more began to challenge the legitimacy of the armed forces and criticizing their record on the eve of the first anniversary of Egypt’s revolution.
Foreign assistance in surveillance
2011 Internet shutdown
On January 27, various reports claimed that access to the Internet in the entire country had been shut down. The authorities responsible achieved this by shutting down the country's official Domain Name System, in an attempt to stop mobilization for anti-government protests. Later reports stated that almost all BGP announcements out of the country had been withdrawn, almost completely disconnecting the country from the global Internet, with only a single major provider, Noor Data Networks, remained up. And while Noor continued to operate for several days, its routes started to be withdrawn at 20:46 UTC on 31 January.
It was later reported that the five major Egyptian service providers—Telecom Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Link Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and Internet Egypt—all went dark one after the other between 22:12 and 22:25 UTC (12:12–12:25 a.m. Friday 28 January Cairo time). As a result, approximately 93% of all Egyptian networks were unreachable by late afternoon. The shutdown happened within the space of a few tens of minutes, not instantaneously, which was interpreted as companies receiving phone calls one at a time, ordering them to shut down access, rather than an automated system taking all providers down at once.
Analysis by BGPMon showed that only 26 BGP routes of the 2903 registered routes to Egyptian networks remained active after the blackout was first noticed; thus an estimated 88% of the whole Egyptian network was disconnected. RIPE NCC has two graphs of routing activity from Egypt, announcements/withdrawals and available prefixes, including a snapshot of activity during the shutdown.
Shortly after the Internet shutdown, engineers at Google, Twitter, and SayNow, a voice-messaging startup company acquired by Google in January, announced the Speak To Tweet service. Google stated in its official blog that the goal of the service was to assist Egyptian protesters in staying connected during the Internet shutdown. Users could phone in a tweet by leaving a voicemail and use the Twitter hashtag #Egypt. These tweets can be accessed without an Internet connection by dialing the same designated phone numbers. Those with Internet access can listen to the tweets by visiting twitter.com/speak2tweet.
Internet service providers such as the French Data Network (FDN) provided free (zero-cost) dial-up access to Egyptians with landline (analogue) international telephone access. FDN provided the service as a matter of principle, to "contribute to the freedom of expression of the Egyptian people and allow them to keep a connection with the rest of the world."
The people of Egypt have rights that are universal. That includes the right to peaceful assembly and association, the right to free speech and the ability to determine their own destiny. These are human rights and the United States will stand up for them everywhere. I also call upon the Egyptian government to reverse the actions that they've taken to interfere with access to the internet, to cellphone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century.
On February 2, connectivity was re-established by the four main Egyptian service providers. A week later, the heavy filtering that occurred at the height of the revolution had ended and bloggers and online activists who had been arrested were released.
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