ESTONIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net ETHIOPIA 2009 POPULATION: 85 million INTERNET FREEDOM n/a Not INTERNET PENETRATION: 0.5 percent STATUS Free WEB 2.0 APPLICATIONS BLOCKED: Yes Obstacles to Access n/a SUBSTANTIAL POLITICAL CENSORSHIP: Yes Limits on Content n/a BLOGGERS/ONLINE USERS ARRESTED: No Violations of User Rights n/a PRESS FREEDOM STATUS: Not Free Total n/a INTRODUCTION Although Ethiopia is one of Africa’s most populous countries, poor infrastructure and a government monopoly on telecommunications have significantly hindered the expansion of digital media. As a result, Ethiopia has one of the lowest rates of internet and mobiletelephone penetration on the continent. Nevertheless, dissidents both inside the country and in the diaspora have increasingly used the internet as a platform for political discussion and criticism of the regime.
The government has responded by instituting one of the few nationwide filtering systems in Africa, passing laws to restrict free expression, and attempting to manipulate online media. These efforts have coincided with a broader increase in repression against independent print and broadcast media since the 2005 parliamentary elections, in which opposition parties mustered a relatively strong showing.1 The crackdown gained new momentum ahead of the next elections in May 2010, though these were significantly less competitive. The ruling party and its partners obtained 544 of the 547 parliamentary seats and all but four of the 1,904 seats in regional councils, amid allegations of fraud and intimidation of opposition supporters. Julia Crawford, “Ethiopia: Poison, Politics and the Press,” Committee to Protect Journalists, April 28, 2006, http://cpj.org/reports/2006/04/ethiopia-da-spring-06.php.
European Union Election Observation Mission to Ethiopia, Ethiopia: Final Report, House of People’s Representatives and State Council Elections, May 2010 (Brussels: European Union, 2010), http://www.eueom.eu/files/pressreleases/english/final-report-eueomethiopia-08112010_en.pdf.
ETHIOPIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net Internet and mobile-phone services were introduced in Ethiopia in 1997 and 1999, respectively.3 In recent years, the government has attempted to increase access through the establishment of fiber-optic cables, satellite links, and mobile broadband services. It has refused to end exclusive control over the market by the state-owned telecommunications firm, the Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation (ETC). However, in December France Telecom took over management of ETC for a two-year period, renaming it Ethio Telecom in the process.4 China has also emerged as a key investor and contractor in Ethiopia’s telecommunications sector.5 Given allegations that the Chinese authorities have provided the Ethiopian government with technologies that can be used for political repression, such as surveillance cameras and satellite jamming equipment,6 some observers fear that the Chinese may assist the authorities in developing more robust internet and mobile-phone censorship and surveillance capacities in the coming years.
OBSTACLES TO ACCESS Ethiopia’s telecommunications infrastructure is among the least developed in Africa and is almost entirely absent from rural areas, which are home to about 85 percent of the population. In 2009, an estimated 915,000 fixed telephone lines were in operation, serving a population of 83 million, for a penetration rate of approximately 1 percent.7 Similarly, as of 2009, there were only 447,000 internet users, for a penetration rate of 0.5 percent.However, the number of actual subscriptions is lower, with a reported 74,600 fixed-line The first use of internet-like electronic communication was in 1993, when the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) launched the Pan African Documentation and Information Service Network (PADISNET) project, establishing electronic communication nodes in several countries, including Ethiopia. PADISNET provided the first store-and-forward e-mail and electronic-bulletin board services in Ethiopia. It was used by a few hundred people, primarily academics and staff of international agencies or nongovernmental organizations.
William Davison, “France Telecom Takes Over Management of Ethiopia’s Monopoly,” Bloomberg, December 3, 2010, http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2010-12-03/france-telecom-starts-two-year-management-contract-at-ethiopia-sutility.html.
Isaac Idun-Arkhurst and James Laing, The Impact of the Chinese Presence in Africa (London: africapractice, 2007), http://www.davidandassociates.co.uk/davidandblog/newwork/China_in_Africa_5.pdf.
Hilina Alemu, “INSA Installing Street Surveillance Cameras,” Addis Fortune, March 21, 2010, http://www.addisfortune.com/Vol%2010%20No%20516%20Archive/INSA%20Installing%20Street%20Surrviellance%20Ca meras.htm; “China Involved in ESAT Jamming,” Addis Neger, June 22, 2010, http://addisnegeronline.com/2010/06/chinainvolved-in-esat-jamming/.
International Telecommunications Union (ITU), “ICT Statisctics 2009—Fixed Telephone Lines,” http://www.itu.int/ITUD/icteye/Reporting/ShowReportFrame.aspxReportName=/WTI/MainTelephoneLinesPublic&ReportFormat=HTML4.0&R P_intYear=2009&RP_intLanguageID=1&RP_bitLiveData=False.
International Telecommunication Union (ITU), “ICT Statistics 2009—Internet,” http://www.itu.int/ITUD/icteye/Indicators/Indicators.aspx#, accessed February 14, 2011.
ETHIOPIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net internet connections in 2009, and only 3,500 of them broadband.9 Mobile-phone penetration was roughly 5 percent, or about 4.1 million subscriptions, as of 2009.The combined cost of purchasing a computer, initiating an internet connection, and paying usage charges places internet access beyond the reach of most Ethiopians. The cost of mobile-phone broadband service ranges from a subscription charge of US$80 plus a monthly fee of US$255 for a 2.4 Mbps connection, to a subscription charge of US$10 plus a usagebased monthly fee for a 153.6 Kbps connection. For the second option, the actual speed is 70 to 80 Kbps, and an average subscriber using the connection mainly for e-mail and limited web functions would pay about US$20 per month.11 By comparison, the gross domestic product per capita was US$318.70 in 2008.12 A 2010 study by the International Telecommunication Union found that Ethiopia’s broadband internet connections were among the most expensive in the world when compared with monthly income, second only to those in the Central African Republic.13 Prices are set by ETC and kept artificially high;
the Ethiopian government has been reluctant to liberalize the telecommunications sector, which would likely drive prices down. An adult literacy rate of 36 percent means that the majority of Ethiopians would be unable to take full advantage of online resources even if they had access to the technology.14 Radio remains the principal mass medium through which most Ethiopians obtain information.
The majority of internet users rely on cybercafes to access the web, though connections there are often slow and unreliable. A 2010 study commissioned by Manchester University’s School of Education found that accessing an online e-mail account and opening one message took six minutes in a typical Addis Ababa cybercafe with a broadband connection.15 The number of cybercafes has grown in recent years, after a brief period in 2001–02 in which the government declared them illegal and forced some to shut down.
Since July 2002, the Ethiopian Telecommunications Agency (ETA) has been authorized to issue licenses for new cybercafes.
The authorities have placed some restrictions on advanced internet applications. In particular, the use or provision of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) services or internet Ibid..
ITU, “ICT Statistics 2009—Mobile Cellular Subscriptions,” http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/icteye/Indicators/Indicators.aspx#, accessed February 14, 2011.
Ethio Telecom, “Detail Tariff for Leased Line Internet Through BBMN,” http://www.ethionet.et/services/leasedlineinternetbbmntariff.html, accessed February 15, 2011.
United Nations, “Country Profile: Ethiopia,” World Statistics Pocketbook, http://data.un.org/CountryProfile.aspxcrName=Ethiopia, accessed August 26, 2010.
Jonathan Fildes, “UN Reveals Global Disparity in Broadband Access,” British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), September 2, 2010, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-11162656.
UNICEF, “Ethiopia: Statistics,” http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/ethiopia_statistics.html#67, accessed August 6, 2010.
Andinet Teshome, Internet Access in the Capital of Africa (School of Education, University of Manchester, 2009), EthioTube video, 8:56, posted by “Kebena,” http://www.ethiotube.net/video/9655/Internet-Access-in-the-Capital-of-Africa-AddisAbaba, accessed August 06, 2010.
ETHIOPIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net based fax services—including at cybercafes—is prohibited,16 with potential punishments including a fine and up to five years in prison.17 The government instituted the ban on VoIP in 2002 after it gained popularity as a less expensive means of communicating and began to drain revenue from the ETC’s traditional telephone business.18 Social-networking sites such as Facebook, the video-sharing site YouTube, and the Twitter microblogging service are available, though very slow internet speeds make it impossible to access video content.
International blog-hosting websites such as Blogger have been frequently blocked since the disputed parliamentary elections of 2005, during which the opposition used online communication to organize and disseminate information that was critical of the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).19 In addition, for two years following the 2005 elections, ETC blocked text-messaging via mobile phones after the ruling party accused the opposition of using the technology to organize antigovernment protests. Text-messaging services did not resume until September 2007.Ethiopia is connected to the international internet via satellite, a fiber-optic cable that passes through Sudan and connects to its international gateway, and another cable that connects through Djibouti to an international undersea cable.21 In an effort to expand connectivity, the government has reportedly installed several thousand kilometers of fiberoptic cable throughout the country in recent years.22 There are also plans in place to connect Ethiopia to a global undersea cable network through the East African Submarine Cable System (EASSy) project. The EASSy project itself was completed and launched in July 2010, but its effects on Ethiopia have yet to be seen.23 The authorities have sought to increase access via satellite links for government offices and schools in rural areas. WoredaNet, for instance, connects over 500 woredas, or local districts, to regional and central government offices, providing services such as video conferencing and internet access. Similarly, SchoolNet connects over 500 high schools across the country to a gateway that provides video- and audio-streamed educational programming.24 The impact of such projects has Ethiopian Telecommunication Agency (ETA), “Telecommunication Proclamation No. 281/2002, Article 2(11) and 2(12),” http://www.eta.gov.et/Scan/Telecom%20Proc%20281_2002%20(amendment)%20NG.pdf, accessed August 24, 2010.
ETA, “Telecommunication Proclamation No. 49/1996, Articles 24 and 25,” http://www.eta.gov.et/Scan/Telecom%20Proc%2049_1996%20NG1.pdf, accessed August 24, 2010.
Samuel Kinde, “Internet in Ethiopia: Is Ethiopia Off-Line or Wired to the Rim” MediaETHIOPIA, November 2007, http://www.mediaethiopia.com/Engineering/Internet_in_Ethiopia_November2007.htm.
Brian Adero, “WIOCC-EASSy Cable Ready for Business,” IT News Africa, July 23, 2010, http://www.itnewsafrica.com/p=8419.
Kinde, “Internet in Ethiopia.” ETHIOPIA FREEDOM HOUSE Freedom on the Net been limited, however, as internet speeds across these networks remain almost prohibitively slow, and outages are common. In addition, as all of the networks are government owned and managed, the space for independent initiatives, entrepreneurial or otherwise, is extremely limited.25 While a very small number of governmental and international organizations have their own VSAT satellite links to the internet with special government approval, such connections are not allowed for private organizations.The state-owned ETC, or Ethio Telecom, retains a monopoly on all telecommunications services, including internet access and both mobile and fixed-line telephony. Connection to the international internet is centralized via Ethio Telecom, from which cybercafes must purchase their bandwidth. The ETA is the primary regulatory body overseeing the telecommunications sector.27 Although it was established as an autonomous federal agency, in practice it is tightly controlled by the government.