Internet in Ethiopia
Ethiopia has the second lowest Internet penetration rate in sub-Saharan Africa (only Sierra Leone’s is lower) and is currently attempting a broad expansion of access throughout the country. These efforts have been hampered by the largely rural makeup of the Ethiopian population and the government’s refusal to permit any privatization of the telecommunications market. Only 360,000 people had Internet access in 2008, a penetration rate of 0.4%. The state-owned Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) is the sole Internet service provider (ISP) in the country. Internet cafés are the main source of access in urban areas, and an active community of bloggers and online journalists now plays an important role in offering alternative news sources and venues for political dialogue. However, three-quarters of the country’s Internet cafés are in the capital city, Addis Ababa, and even there access is often slow and unreliable. A test conducted by a Media Ethiopia researcher in July 2007 determined that the average connectivity speed was 5 kBps and that Internet service in most cafés was unavailable between 10 and 20 percent of the time.
In 2005, Ethiopia announced plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars over the next three years to connect all of the country’s schools, hospitals, and government offices, and most of its rural population, to broadband Internet via satellite or fiber-optic cable. Between 2005 and 2007, the government spent US$40 million to install WoredaNET and SchoolNET, two nationwide networks meant to increase connectivity. WoredaNET provides e-mail, videoconferencing and voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) services to local governments, and SchoolNet provides streaming audio and video through a downlink-only VSAT (Very Small Aperture Terminal) satellite. The government has pledged to dedicate 10% of its annual budget to the development and maintenance of these networks, which are managed by the government-run Ethiopian ICT Development Authority (EICTDA).
Ethiopia has made several attempts to increase available broadband by laying 4,000 kilometers of fiber-optic cable along the country’s major highways, by making overtures to the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) and by connecting Addis Ababa to existing fiber optic networks in Port Sudan and Djibouti. These ventures have had mixed success. The domestic network is not yet operational, though the government has promised to lay 10,000 more kilometers of cable by 2010. Once the cable has been laid,[clarification needed] Ethiopia will consider opening the network to a second, private operator. EASSy has been delayed multiple times by disagreements among the member countries (though at the time of writing it was scheduled to be completed by June 2010), and the line to Djibouti was sabotaged and looted, allegedly by ONLF and OLF rebels, shortly after its completion in 2006.
Currently satellite Internet is available to some large corporations, but individuals are not permitted to have private satellite connections. The ETC also bans the use of VoIP in Internet cafés and by the general population, though its web site lists VoIP as part of the company's future broadband strategy.
In June 2012, the number of Internet users had increased to 960,331, or a 1.1% penetration rate.
Regulation and ISPs
The ETC and the Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency (ETA) have exclusive control of Internet access throughout the country. The ETA is not an independent regulatory body, and its staff and telecommunications policies are controlled by the national government. It grants the ETC a monopoly license as Ethiopia’s sole ISP and seller of domain names under the country code top-level domain, ".et". Internet cafés and other resellers of Internet services must be licensed by the ETA and must purchase their access through the ETC. Individual purchasers must also apply for Internet connections through the ETC. In 2012, Ethiopia passed a law that prohibits anyone to "bypasses the telecom infrastructure established by the telecom service provider", which prevents any althernative internet service provider to be created.
In October 2012 the OpenNet Initiative listed Ethiopia as engaged in pervasive Internet filtering in the political area, selective filtering in the conflict/security and Internet tools areas, and there is no evidence of filtering in the social area, and by ONI in October 2012. Blocked content was found to be blocked through the use of forged TCP RST (reset) packets, a method that is not transparent to users.
Ethiopia remains a highly restrictive environment in which to express political dissent online. The government of Ethiopia has long filtered critical and oppositional political content. Broad application of the country’s 2009 anti-terrorism proclamation has served as the basis for a number of recent convictions with bloggers and journalists convicted on terrorism charges based on their online and offline writings. Most notably, in July 2012 blogger Eskinder Nega was jailed for 18 years on charges of attempting to incite violence through his blog posts. This incident was the seventh arrest of Nega for his critical writings. Nega was accused of conspiring with Ginbot 7, an opposition political group labeled a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government. Also convicted in absentia were Abebe Gellaw of the online news platform Addis Voice, as well as Mesfin Negash and Abiye Teklemariam, editors of the news website Addis Neger Online. A number of other journalists and opposition political figures were also simultaneously convicted of similar offenses. In January 2012, Elias Kifle, editor of Ethiopian Review, was convicted in absentia under the same anti-terrorism laws. In April 2014, a team of journalists and bloggers called Zone 9 were arrested under similar terrorism charges in Addis Ababa.
The government has also passed a law restricting the use of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) applications such as Skype. While government representatives portrayed the law as a means of protecting domestic telecommunications providers, some critics described the new draft legislation as an attempt to criminalize the use of VoIP services to punish dissent. A 2014 report describes the "Rules for Cafe Operators", which includes making all computer screens visible to the operator and reporting any content critical of the government. after using the cafés to visit sensitive political websites. Other reports describe attempts by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to restrict the use of tools to anonymize web browsing and circumvent Internet filtering. In May 2012, developers of the Internet anonymizer software project Tor reported that the Ethiopian Telecommunications Corporation (ETC) had begun using deep packet inspection (DPI) to block access to the Tor service.
The Ethiopian government is engaged in extensive surveillance of Internet users both inside and outside Ethiopia. In August 2012, Ethiopia was included on a list of 10 countries that own the commercial spyware suite FinFisher. The Ethiopian government agency involved in surveillance and content blocking is called the Information Network Security Agency.
In December 2006, the Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency began requiring Internet cafés to log the names and addresses of individual customers, reportedly as part of an effort to track users who engaged in illegal activities online. The lists are to be turned over to the police, and Internet café owners who fail to register users may face prison.
Bloggers believe that their communications are being monitored, and the state maintains the right to shut down Internet access for resellers or customers who do not comply with security guidelines. The government has closed Internet cafés in the past for offering VoIP services and for other policy violations.
A 2014 study by Human Rights Watch found extensive surveillance of the Internet and other telecommunication systems in the country. Ethiopian security and intelligence agencies can use internet surveillance capabilities to access files and activity on a target’s computer; to log keystrokes and passwords; and to remotely activate the device's webcam and microphone. The surveillance technology was provided by foreign firms, notably China-based ZTE, as well as FinFisher and Hacking Team.
This article was originally adapted from an OpenNet Initiative report, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license.
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