Shimelis Kemal: News of VOIP ban baseless


The Office of Government Communication Affairs (OGCA) dismissed news reports about the new telecom draft law dubbed ‘Telecom Fraud Offenses’ which was reported as criminalizing the use of Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) as baseless. Different media houses reported that the new telecom law criminalizes the use VOIP such as Skype.  
Following the news report by a number of media houses, people inquire the relevance of the proposed law in the face of the ever changing telecom technology. A number of urbanities simply became confused while many Internet centers providing such services suspended their operation. The following two provisions in the draft law triggered the confusion. 
“Whosoever provides telephone call or fax services through the Internet commits an offence and shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment from 3 to 8 years and with fine equal to five times the revenue estimated to have been earned by him during the period of time he provided the service,” states sub- article 10 (3) of the draft document.
Article 10 (3) singles out those ‘providing’ such service for the sake of monetary benefits. This can only refer to individuals or entities providing such services to others for profit, argue legal experts.
Sub-article four of the same article stipulates that whoever intentionally or by negligence obtained the service stipulated under the article commits an offence and shall be punishable with imprisonment from three months to two years and with a fine from birr 2,500 to 20,000 birr.
Sub article 4 of the same provision criminalizes individuals who obtain such services provided by others and therefore, personal use without involving third party is permissible, added the experts.
No matter how confusing the issue was, there was no official explanation from Ethiopian authorities till last Friday, June 22, 2012. Shimeles Kemal, vice head of the OGCA with a ministerial portfolio, however, argues otherwise. 
“…following the submission of draft law to the House of People’s Representatives, incorrect news reports are popping up. The draft document does not prohibit VOIP from one computer to another, from a computer to a telephone through the Internet including Skype, Goggle [Talk], and Yahoo [Messenger]. The reports portrayed it as if the government drafted the law to prohibit such services. This is a biased report. Such information is basically wrong. The government has legally insured the use of VOIP in the old telecom law without any restriction. The new draft law has no intention or goal to prohibit such services. Therefore, the baseless news reports in this regard need correction, ” he said.                                                                                                                                            The draft document classifies wrongdoings in telecom sector as unlawful use of telecommunication equipment, unlawful provision of telecommunication service, unlawful interception and access of data, unlawful use of telecommunication service and fraud of charges, call-back service and illegal telecom operation.
Telecommunication equipment is any apparatus used or intended to be used for telecommunication services; including its accessory and software, defines the draft document.
Those people who violate the law shall face three months to 15 years of imprisonment with a fine ranging from 2,500 to 150,000 birr.
“Whosoever manufactures, assembles, imports or offers for sale any telecommunication equipment without obtaining a prior permit from the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology commits an offense and shall, unless it entails a severe penalty under any other law, be punishable with rigorous imprisonment from 10 to 15 years and with a fine from birr 100,000 to 150, 000 birr,” stipulates the draft document. 
The government sees wide spread telecom fraud as a security threat which is the imputes for the proposed law that was prepared by the Information Network Security Agency (INSA) and tabled for discussion before the House of People’s Representatives on May 24, 2012 and referred to Science, Communication and Technology Affairs  Standing Committee for further inspection.