A ban allegedly issued from Egypt’s National Telecommunications Regulation Authority (NTRA) has prevented many across the country from using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services, sparking outrage on social media.
Several outraged Facebook and Twitter users spoke out against the ban using the hashtag #SaveTheInternet, which became Egypt’s top trending hashtag on Twitter after the news broke on Monday.
— Amr No 2 CC (@Cairo67Unedited) October 5, 2015
Last week Sisi said Egypt enjoys unprecedented freedom of expression.Now Skype,Whatsapp&Viber are blcked for nat’l security #انقذوا_الانترنت
— Anج (@Angieslyst) October 5, 2015
The NTRA issued a statement denying issuing the ban, asserting that this was only a “rumor,” state news agency MENA reported on Monday. NTRA customer service representatives also insisted that such a decision “would have to come from the service providers.”
However, customer service representatives from each of Vodafone, Mobinil and Etisalat – Egypt’s three mobile phone service providers – confirmed that the NTRA issued a declaration notifying the companies of a decision to disable Skype usage.
Thus far, the official statement applies to Skype use from 3G networks, meaning that the application should work normally from computers connected to ADSL networks, according to the latter customer service representatives.
However, social media users say they have also been unable to place Skype calls from their computers, and some say the VoIP block has affected their access to other Internet calling services and online gaming websites.
— Ahmed Fouad (@AhmedFouad) October 5, 2015
Translation: WhatsApp calls have been blocked on Vodafone’s network #SaveTheInternet
VoIP technology allows for voice and multimedia communications through the Internet, rather than through regular telephone lines. With the surge in VoIP technology, many turned to applications and services such as Viber and Skype to place free international calls via the Internet without being subjected to exorbitant per-minute charges by service providers.
Ahmed Medhat, Managing Director at InfraLayer and a communications and web infrastructure expert, said that this move is indicative of the government’s desire to “block whatever they can’t monitor.”
Medhat said that this move might be based on national security concerns, as terrorist organizations have become increasingly tech-savvy and use communication systems that are more secure and less easily tracked.
On the other hand, he said that the ban will likely push ordinary Egyptian citizens to become more technologically educated as well and find a way to bypass the ban.
“The way I see it, six months from this ban, we’ll see a huge leap toward technology education,” Medhat said. “Humans always learned to find their way to survival and Egyptians [are] known for bypassing any kind of limitation they’re faced with.”
This is not the first time the Egyptian government has reportedly banned VoIP services. In March 2010, various news agencies reported the NTRA issued a ban on mobile calls made through Internet-based services like Skype due to Egyptian laws dictating that all international calls must pass through state-owned Egypt Telecom.
Amr Badawy, then-Executive President of the NTRA, confirmed to Reuters that it would move to ban international calls through mobile Internet connections. Khaled Hegazy, Vodafone Egypt’s External Affairs Director, told AFP at the time that Vodafone complied with the decision.
It remains unclear whether the service providers are currently moving to reapply the 2010 ban or if the NTRA issued a new declaration. The motives behind the ban are also contested; some say the NTRA framed it as an issue of national security, while the real motive is for telecommunication companies to recapture lost profits from international calls.