VoIP Crackown: Implications for gov, telecom & civil society
09 December 2016 - A Workshop on in Guadalajara,Mexico
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Hello. Thanks everyone for coming out. This is the panel of web crackdown centered on the theme of VoIP and blocking. We have a great bunch of panelists here, diverse and knowledgeable group. I'll introduce myself, I'm Keith McManamen, an analyst at Psiphon. To the left of me is Pablo. He works as a public policy analyst and part of the research and policy team there and does research and legislative follow-up of technology and human rights-related issues. To his left Hanane Boujemi is the senior manager of the Internet Governance Program for Hivos. On her left Peter Clement. He leads the Access Policy Team's business and human rights work advocating for a more rights-respecting telecom and tech sector and teaches a course at Columbia University on Internet Policy and Governance. And Robert Pepper here from Facebook. Robert joined Facebook in 2016 and is the head of Global Connectivity, Policy and Planning. Before Facebook he was the VP of Global Technology Policy for 11 years at Cisco. Before that he spent 20 years working on these issues at the FCC. Thank you for joining us.
We have two remote participants as well. We have Amin Jobran from Toronto. Their organization specializes in localizing access solution for the MENA region and raising awareness, outreach and user support for circumvention and digital security tools. We have Halefom Abraha, a cyber law and policy researcher and deputy director of legal and policy affairs at the Information Network Security Agency in Ethiopia. He obtained his LLB in law, and communications law from the University of Southampton, United Kingdom.
So I'm going to start off and just going to show you some trends and VoIP blocking as they manifested on the Psiphon network. It allows people to bypass Internet censorship and during instances of blocking events we can see usage trends. In Brazil multiple instances in the last year of blocking of What’s App relating to a criminal case there. As you can see, the day that the application was blocked there are 100 million What’s App users in Brazil and you can see that we had a huge spike in our network usage. The same thing occurred in early May of 2016 and again we see the emergence of this pattern. A third case in July, What’s App was blocked for less than a day and even still we observed a similar trend to this.
Now, in the MENA region there have been numerous cases as others will allude to. The Morocco ban on VoIP applications that began around January 6th of this year resulted in a huge increase in usage of our networks. And it persisted actually for a few months afterwards as there was -- there was a ruling to block the service, then it was briefly unblocked in response to public protests and then it was reblocked and to my knowledge it is now unblocked, we think. And then I have one last case to show you, which is a case from Uganda during the Uganda elections in February of this year. The incumbent ruler had arrested the opposition leader. He was detained under house arrest. There were basically gangs roaming the streets intimidating voters, polling station were closing while people were still lined up to vote. And there was a full scale blocking of social media, VoIP and also money transfer platforms, Psiphon had next to no usage in Ethiopia for all of 2015.
We performed little to no outreach to the country and all it takes is one person to send a tweet out saying here is an application that will work to restore your access to the applications that you want to use. As you can see we had 1,000% increase in our traffic there.
So I guess in evaluating these cases, we can see maybe three main reasons why VoIP applications would be considered a threat to governments or regulatory agencies. Firstly, oftentimes your communications are end-to-end encrypted, which presents difficulty in obtaining user data or may undermine national mass surveillance programs. Secondly, they're free. Which is A, the reason that they're so popular. But they are also perceived as a threat to the revenue model of telecommunications companies. And then thirdly they allow the rapid dissemination of information, which is used by people during elections, protests or other moments of political crisis.
So I'm going to kick it down the line. Everyone will have a few minutes, three to five minutes, let's say, to present some opening remarks. Your perspective of either of these regional cases or the issue as a whole. Why don't you begin
>> I am not a native speaker. In 2012 an industry spokesman called net neutrality in search for a problem. -- it is relevant because blocking had never ever happened and if it happened it would be the market forces that will compel the Internet service providers to correct those and reopen the networks. Years of experience have shown that VoIP blocking is a reality, for us as a Latin American organization this is a human rights issue. That is because freedom of expression is not only a right for everyone to fully express their opinions but also the right to seek, receive and impart information through any media regardless over the years. Because of that, any limitation to the rights of freedom of expression has to fulfill the three-part test establishing article 19. That is to say it has to be provided by law, there must be a legitimate aim to that limitation of freedom of expression and it must be truly necessary.
The Latin American region has seen plenty of instances of VoIP blocking motivated because of economical reasons and lack of net neutrality rules but also because of high standards of strong antitrust mechanisms. The particular Lehr tee is that none of these cases complied with international human rights standards. For example, voice net is a local Internet provider in Chile. They offered more competitive prices than the big telecom in Chile. They slowed down services. Voice net sued Telephonica accusing the later company of unfair practices under law. Telephonica's argument for defense was lack -- for the provision of broadband services and allowing to block certain types of protocols. In 2007 the Supreme Court of Chile ordered Telephonica to stop putting on limitations and the net neutrality law enacted in 2010. And therefore would be illegal -- blocking would be illegal right now no Chile. Other cases in 2013 Brazil telecom blocked VoIP using a network management softer. The telecom regulated -- stop revenue loss. Later on the -- (inaudible) but imposing the obligation to treat all packages under the same standard. Currently there is no examples of enforcement of those kind of rules.
Other examples is communication limited is currently blocking VoIP provided such as Skype and many others, in fact, the company went so far as to block Google talk, messenger and OAM because they offered a message services and also chat messages.
In 2015 one of the most important telecommunications company in Latin America blocked Skype in Mexico. To date they have not regulated the issue even though it's against the Mexican Constitution. These acts are left unpunished. From a human rights defenders perspective we must not overlook the true nature and thus the true effects of this kind of blocking. Similarities and differences aside, one key thing in common with on jurisdictions around the world where blocking happens is the effect this has on the population. A limited Internet with local -- to be dramatically increased with the use of technology. A limited capacity to choose a service that better fits our needs for privacy and security. Ability for people with certain disabilities to connect and communicate with others. A limited capability in isolated places or -- hindered capability to use the Internet for the human rights when policies or practices allowed, there is a precedent for blocking all kinds of services.
This is what has made a strong net neutrality rules not just in principle but also in the enforcement mechanisms more necessary than ever. When it is addressed as a regulatory issue and when we address all the tech problems to be technically solved by the tech savvy, the effects of the general population often are overlooked and ignored. Thank you.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thank you very much. Would you like to go next, Hanane?
>> HANANE BOUJEMI: He mentioned that the economic incentives behind banning VoIP for telecoms and then the impact on banning that on freedom of information and freedom of expression. I think I will just maybe give an overview about what is happening in the Middle East. Currently VoIP is blocked in many countries in our region we have produced this map that gives a clear idea which are the countries that are currently suffering from VoIP crackdown. Now Morocco is excluded. We have updated the map because recently the king of Morocco decided that people need to have access to VoIP because we organize a key global meeting on climate change and it was luckily being exposed international in these events help sometimes the normal citizens just to exchange information.
If we look at the map, we see the trend that there is one main telecom operator who is present in these markets and that is -- they seem to have a strategies that favors the business model and that's based on getting an income from telecom communications. Of course, the Internet came and shaped the business model of all these companies, including telecoms, regulators and evident they are challenged by the business model of the Internet. Now VoIP is basically free. If you have access to Internet, you can use VoIP and I think that didn't go down well. These companies made a lot of money and in the first decade when mobile communication became scaled at a larger scale in these countries.
But what we see here, I think we see a very short sighted strategy when it comes to how these companies don't see far. I think the Internet challenged them in a way that they are unable at the moment to plan differently. Their business model is challenged so they should think of different solutions to reach out to the market in a different way. Of course, the purchase power in the Middle East does not allow everybody to have contracts with operators. It is not like what we have in the U.S. or in Europe where telecoms are able actually to draw forecasts on their income annually. They also make a lot of money out of services that we pay for as consumers but they cost no money to operate like SMSs and so on. When it comes to human rights, I mean, it is very difficult to convey the message that banning a service like VoIP hampers access to information and hampers the exchange of information in general. That is not only at the level of citizens, like you really impact different activities, businesses, different opportunities.
And I've heard a real-life examples where people are using What’s App in the Middle East to do business to communicate with their counterparts from other regions all around the world and because it was banned for quite some time, the business was damaged. And I don't think telecoms see that these kind of decisions really impacts what's going on.
Now, there are clever people who try to quantify these kinds of actions and, for example, in Morocco when VoIP was banned, a very talented programmer developed a code to actually show Morocco telecom, the main operator, how much money they are losing. People, of course, were very unhappy with the decision unliked them on Facebook. He managed to quantify the value of Facebook unlikes to show them how much money they are losing every single day. And it was updated in realtime. I think that was maybe one of the things that helped maybe change the decision on the top of reports like the ones of Brookings, which managed somehow to establish -- to put let's say a number on it. How much money are you losing when you cut services like VoIP? I think that was a very good research and it would be good if it is scaled in other regions as well to show exactly the damage that is done from cutting services like VoIP. So in sum I think as human rights advocates, corporates, many companies are trying to help reach in the end reach. We still know we need to connect the next three or four billion people. There is a lot of work done by Internet corporations like Google or Facebook that are investing a lot in alternatives where it becomes maybe obsolete to use a local operator to connect to the network. There are many other models that could be referred to here, namely blockchain technology as well is taking the world by storm now and I think all these alternatives are being set up at the moment will help people from regions where people are really underprivileged and basically living under the mercy of their centralized government.
We need a model that is more decentralized. At the application level, at the legal level and the implementation level and the standard level. We see that happening slowly now. But I think that will catch up very fast. The traditional -- whatever is traditional we know today, government, companies, need to watch out because things are moving fast. For us in the Middle East it is very important to have access to the simple things which make life easier. Because people in the Middle East still don't know how to use Internet for business. The Internet is not an industry in the Middle East. It is more or less Facebook literally. Internet equals Facebook. Everybody has Facebook and that's what they know. Unfortunately that's the case. There is no long-term strategy to reap the benefits of the Internet industry and we're just very good at shutting down services in general. We are never able -- you know, maybe not only the Middle East. It's all countries who are unable to keep pace with development and technology. So when you don't know how it works. When you don't know how to challenge a new thing, a new model, you just shut it down. And that hampers a lot of other vital things. Be it services, education, communication.
So we need to have more of a long-term vision of how we want the Internet to impact our lives and what do we want to do with the Internet after all? So that's from my side.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thank you for giving us an insight into the regional case. I wonder can we get Amin? And maybe he will have some interesting follow up to the -- I know he worked on the Morocco case specifically. Give us an insight into the outreach with circumvention tools.
>> AMIN JOBRAN: Can you hear me? Hey, everyone. Thank you very much for having me. Thank you, Hanane for this, nice to see you on camera again. So as she said, we did -- Keith mentioned that we did do some work on VoIP in the MENA region. Basically we've been seeing a trend for the past couple years of aggressive VoIP blocking and it was always increasing. And we do see the regional trend how basically the companies -- telecom companies looking to expand regionally export the blocking models. To Morocco they also brought with them their blocking model. And the Gulf countries in general this is the case. This year alone Snapchat was blocked and they Facebook Messenger was blocked and many others, What’s App calling doesn't work. And like the case -- the problem with this is the telecom industry is usually in bed with political power. So what they do, the policies they come up with not taking into consideration the interest of the citizen, they are interested in profit. Should I do my presentation now since I'm talking already or just comment on this specific thing?
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: No, please go for it.
>> AMIN JOBRAN: Basically, yeah, we've been seeing that and what we do at ASL19 our work is basically to help MENA citizens access the Internet freely and without any -- without any restrictions. So what we do is we go in when a blocking happens. We distribute circumvention tools or VPM tools for the people to bypass the blocking and make it obsolete. Again, we do that because we believe in the right to access -- the right of access to information and we believe these blocking actually affect the weakest and most marginalized citizens. We try to help the ones -- the citizens that are not technologically very tech savvy. We distribute these tools to them and give them user guides on how to use them and what not. And we have seen many successes. For example, in Morocco when we intervened back in I think January and then the blocking happened again in March, we saw -- we distributed Psiphon back then and sold 2400% increase and also in Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and what we experienced on our end, because we interact with users directly, is that they are all looking for a solution to circumvent this blocking.
The problem is sometimes with access solutions that are out there, be it different technologies like proxy or what not, is that those tools are not very connected to their users or with their users in the region. So we try to kind of like bridge this divide so we can make these tools more user friendly and basically work.
I'll give an example. We got reports from Saudi Arabia back in August, September that Facebook Messenger wasn't working. We did the survey and got almost 1500 response and basically it was confirmed that this was not working and we communicated with Psiphon people, developers, and they basically came up with a solution, updated the app and people were able to use more Facebook Messenger with Psiphon, which is an open source tool and basically they are accessing the Internet in a safe way and circumventing the censorship. This is one example about how citizens reach out. They want access and to reach out to have that. One thing I would like to point out here is with the private companies like What’s App, Facebook Messenger, whatnot, sometimes it's also the challenge comes from their end. So, for example, What’s App calling in Saudi Arabia and UAE cannot be used and the reason why it's because What’s App calling especially it says it doesn't -- it's not available in these countries and they basically block the usage of What’s App calling from their end by regional phone numbers. And therefore even if the citizens in Saudi Arabia or UAE try to use VoIP and they actually are not going to get anywhere because the blocking is not happening on the ISP level but happening from the private company itself.
Basically I think there is a lot of work to be done. I think if the companies are going to keep on trying to maximize their profits to go about dealing with this whole thing in the wrong way without resorting to creative solutions, and we as a Civil Society basically we should keep on building the capacity and the resiliency off the Civil Society itself and the citizens as a whole. Thank you.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thank you, Amin. We'll go to Peter now. We can get a bit of a glimpse into how exactly can we advocate for a more just and rights-respected telecom policy.
>> PETER CLEMENT: Thanks. Yeah, I think we've heard so much great arguments and information about the extent of impacts that this has and at Access Now we're happy to advocate and connect directly with users both through our direct technical support on the helpline. My colleague Kim here works on that. And closely with them I'm on the policy team and we have an advocacy group as well where we look to bring the lessons learned from this direct engagement with users at risk and users being blocked and take them to the stakeholders in the forums building the norms and writing the laws. So I think I'm hearing one thing out of the panel which is a really interesting interplay between commercial and rights-based arguments.
I think we know that VoIP blocking is a human rights violation. It is a violation of clearly access to information, part of our right to freedom of expression among other things. I don't just want to bring -- I want to beat them on their own arguments. I think we can make the case that VoIP blocking is actually a commercial failure and directly violates the economic, social and cultural rights of citizens. Let's beat them on their own turf. The economic, social and cultural rights protects the right to work. I would love to read from it which includes the right of everyone of the opportunity to gain his or her or their living by work which they freely choose or accept and the State will take appropriate steps to safeguard this right. These steps include technical and vocational guidance and training, programs, policies and techniques to achieve steady economic, social and cultural development.
I don't think it takes a law degree to see that VoIP blocking clearly violates this provision. I'm not even talking about the freedom of expression. I'm talking about your right to work. We hear that it hits the most marginalized citizens. We hear the Telcos no they turn it back when the national people are watching. National events they'll turn the switch back on. Talking about my perspective from a business and human rights approach, we want Telcos and all companies to know that they impact human rights, to know they have a responsibility and to show us the steps they're taking to meet that responsibility. So in this case we -- telco showed they know VoIP blocking impacts human rights. We come up with the steps they need to take as a Civil Society group. One thing we're doing is developing principles -- human rights principles on connectivity and development. This is taking the opportunity to step back and say that actually infrastructure providers impact human rights and have responsibilities. This isn't just a Facebook, Google, problem. This is actually a human rights apply to all layers of the stack and need to be built in by design. Most directly we're tracking Internet shutdowns around the world. We've seen vast increase -- over 50 intentional disruptions of connectivity around the world in the past year. The incidence is rising on all continents and we aren't waiting a moment to fight back. We've built a coalition of keep it on in more than 100 organizations in 50 countries who have pledged to fight Internet shutdowns and protect the norm of Internet for all at all times.
And this coalition delivered 46,000 signatures on our petition to world leaders this week at the IGF to the Freedom Online Coalition to ask their leaders to publicly pledge to keep the Internet on. And as far as the technical guidance, you know, I see this as a bid for remedy. Getting back to the business of human rights discourse, the third pillar of the U.N. guiding principles of business and human rights declares that both private sector companies and governments jointly have the responsibility to provide access to meaningful remedy when abuses have occurred. When they've caused or contributed to the abuses. Again, they know they've caused or contributed to massive abuses across regions like this. This is not a case-by-case basis. This is a systematic infringement and deprivation. And so one of the remedies that we're asking for -- well, again, it's turning it back on, it's understanding your economy and your commercial duties as much broader than just maximizing a company's short term profit and it is taking a human rights-based approach to connectivity.
I think my colleagues in Brussels and elsewhere fight for net neutrality, which is the law in 46 countries. Net neutrality where enforced laws would prevent this type of blocking. And I think the real pushback, though, will have to be on the local level and that's where we're organizing with Civil Society to really make a strong statement and to keep it on campaign.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thank you, Peter. Let's go to Robert next and maybe you can tell us sort of -- give us a technical overview from the private sector or from Facebook. You get blocked routinely. You don't openly pursue a circumvention strategy yourselves. How does it look from your view?
>> ROBERT PEPPER: Thank you and thanks, Keith. This is actually a great session because among other things, it is, as I love the way Peter named this, it's really with the #keep it on, this is where the interests of the technical community, the Internet companies, Civil Society, human rights advocates all come together because it is really in many ways this is about citizens and consumers having access to use services. Let me back up a little bit.
So I actually was at the FCC when we had the first case of VoIP blocking in the Madison River case. Where there was a small telco and the U.S. for those of you who don't know, we have several large Telcos but at the time there were 1200 small Telcos. Madison River was one of the small Telcos and it was blocking Vonage. Vonage filed an informal complaint to the FCC. There is a formal complaint process and informal. It was a small startup and it was an informal complaint. It went to the people at the time it was the common carrier wire line bureau now. And they took the complaint and called Madison River because it was a small company. Actually got the CEO. And the staff person said we have this complaint, sir, that you are blocking the sip ports. And the answer was you bet we are. These Internet companies are using our network and they aren't paying for it. And the explanation from the staffer was well sir, that's actually not permitted. You can't do that. And sort of read them the riot act. Within a couple of weeks, there was a letter agreeing never to do that again and there was a voluntary contribution to the U.S. Treasury because it didn't go through the full legal process so it was not a fine because it never had been -- we didn't have to adjudicate it. It was stopped and they made a voluntary contribution to the treasury. That actually led to the first set of net neutrality principles at the FCC. And we looked at it from a consumer perspective.
First, you know, the notion that there is -- blocking of applications was just not permitted. Why? Because the principles were from a consumer perspective -- first, you have the right to connect your own equipment to the network as long as it did not harm the network. Second, you have the right to have access to any legal website, all right? Third, you have the right to download and use any legal application, and VoIP are nothing more than an application. Fourth, you have the right to have sufficient information, the transparency to know your terms of service. Am I getting what I thought I bought? Those were guidelines that then subsequently were turned into rules. But they are really fundamental. If you follow those principles, it is not permissible to block applications or access to websites unless they are illegal.
For example, it is permissible to block access to websites of child pornography, right? Which everybody would agree with. As a general matter, if you take those principles and they've been implemented in different ways in different countries, but fund mentally it goes back to those four principles.
Now, that's sort of the context. When you think about it, the telecommunications world, the network world, has evolved dramatically over the last 20 years. Before that, the entire telecom industry was based upon five assumptions that are 100 years old or more. First assumption was the product was voice. The second assumption was the metric by which you measure, bill and regulate is the minute. Then the third, fourth and fifth assumptions are tied back to regulatory economics. If you have an incremental cost, you have an incremental charge. So if there is -- if the cost goes up because you are connected for a longer period of time, time actually leads to higher costs. That's why you had charges for more voice per minutes, right? Time charges. If there was a cost associated with the distance, you have distance charges. If there was a different cost in different locations, you had different charges in different locations. That was all true with the telephone network as it was built, designed and managed for 100 years. But 20 years ago things began to change and today -- today's flat I.P. networks, right, LTE, for example, on the wireless sand or broadband networks on the fixed side, none of those assumptions hold. The product is connectivity. The metric is bandwidth. And in terms of the economic costs, it's binary. You are on or off. The networks are time, distance and location insensitive. And so when you think about that, the difficult part for many of the telecom operators, especially, for example, in MENA or elsewhere, their business model, even though their underlying networks have changed their business model is still based on charging minutes for voice and that's what is being protected from the economic side.
But what's interesting is that not all telephone companies or telecom companies are stuck in that model. It is difficult for them to change. This is non-trivial to change a 100-year business model. If you look at the U.S. or Canadian operators, AT&T and Verizon have changed their business model. On my AT&T, I buy a data plan. When they sell me my data plan they tell me my voice is free and text is free. It's about data. The VoIP is no more than an application. What's interesting, in 4G LTE, there is no voice. Right? Voice on top of an LTE number it is voice over IP on top of a data connection. So I think that the human rights implications of not updating really what we're talking about here is we have an old business model based upon old technology models that have changed. Some operators have made that change, which is great. Others are lagging. But the implications of the business case shift have huge implications on human rights and that's -- so it's a really -- having to understand that.
The last thing is in your map, which I love, this is not sort of countries or operators in most cases blocking now and then. Most of these countries there is regulation -- government regulation against VoIP, right? It's not like when we see some of the blocking, for example, in Uganda because of political issues and Internet shutdowns for freedom of expression questions. This is the law. Independent of what is being said, right? These laws are designed to protect 100-year-old business model and frankly it's very difficult for the operators to make that change but that's the change that's necessary.
Last point. You mentioned the Brookings study from Morocco. The number was -- Brookings looked at the VoIP blocking in Morocco including Skype, Tango, What’s App, Messenger. Over that period of blocking the economic harm to Morocco was $320 million U.S. Economic harm to Morocco just over the almost was not even a full year of blocking of VoIP services. The Brookings study showed for all Internet shutdowns of all kinds, not just VoIP, the economic impact cost to those countries just in 2016 was $2.4 billion economic loss to those countries because of economic shutdowns. That gets the attention of the -- of government leaders, especially in ministries of finance and economics, not just the telecoms. This is a really important point we need to use. Let's meet them on their own ground. This is about the economic future of countries. They have to be connected and it is about social, economic and cultural benefits to countries as well. Thank you.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Go ahead.
>> ROBERT PEPPER: Thank you. Very interesting feedback from you. In the context of the Middle East and Morocco specifically there is a regulatory framework, it is not the law. Each country like since the mid-90s, so we had a liberalization of the telecom industry. We had a little bit more competition. Companies came to invest in the country and we do have a regulatory framework that I think some of the campaigns that are happening like keep it on and so on is not covering at the moment because it's a little more complicated. For example, it is true the government refers to a very specific law that was drafted by the national regulator, but it was concerned something completely different. In 2004 we had like a buzz from the call centers, they come to invest in Morocco to employ cheap labor. We speak many foreign languages. We made sure as a government that we want to benefit from these companies. We just don't want them to use VoIP. So this specific law was drafted or regulation was drafted specifically to target these companies and they need to be using the infrastructure in Morocco to make these calls based on which they make money.
Now in 2016 the same law was used and here there is a huge issue. Because you draft something related to a completely different subject and you apply it in 2016 when it is not relevant and that needs to change. I think how can we change that? So it's usually people on the ground who can advocate for these kind of changes. Global campaigns are very important and I really appreciate the work that Access Now is doing. I was very pleased to go to a big shopping mall here in Guadalajara, I took a photo and I found it really very interesting and entertaining to see the campaign reaching out. Many people around the world. The thing is we have to do a lot of work so we can dealing with this issue more seriously from the regulatory point of view. I appreciate, you know, your input with regards to how the connection works now. We do know that there is ITU regulating the whole spectrum space and they don't want to give up their role in the industry and we have to look into that a little bit more closely to see whether we need another regulatory body. Whether we need other modalities of work so we can all benefit from the infrastructure in general.
The regulatory framework is really important. We need to zoom in and I'm sure your company also have a lot of conversations about that with different countries mainly in MENA. I'm aware of what you are doing in MENA as well.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thank you, Robert. That was a great description of the economic realities and how they are subverting the old regulatory model. We have one more panelist. I think we're excited to hear the perspective of the regulators because as noted, the blocking of VoIP and messaging applications is not only economic but also political. If we can get him connected, then --
>> Okay, thank you. Can you hear me?
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Hello.
>> Can you hear me?
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Yes.
>> Thank you for having me. So can you hear me?
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: We can hear you.
>> Thank you. So I'm working for the government. I want to share my perspectives and my understanding from the government perspective on the issue. The questions and challenges regarding VoIP. The primary problem regarding VoIP should be regulated or not is the issue of classification. It is because -- react based on their mode of classification especially in our context. So it should be clear with VoIP should be classified. Information services or television? As you know discuss of VoIP is vary from country to country based on their prevailing issues and market issues of that country. Take my country, it is difficult to understand how the government treat VoIP or what the intention and what is blocking these applications unless we have a full picture of the working conscious or preventing policy issues of the country. So VoIP services are not welcome by the government because of both security and economic reasons.
As some of you may know, we have only one telecom company. And that is owned by the government. Whether it's good or bad is another argument. But that is what it is. This is primary. The declared public policy of the country, in a sense the government is a primary player in the country and for this policy to work the government needs money. And telecom is the primary source of money for the government to invest for these projects. Now the government is financing -- (indiscernible) what does it mean from the VoIP perspective? This means the introduction of VoIP applications could not be welcomed by the government and the government reacts.
I believe VoIP is sometimes blocked because of -- (indiscernible) for example, this application to make it very difficult and challenging for -- for example, for the wiretapping issues and for this reasons it is highly regulated for many, many years. So for the reasons -- for these reasons VoIP has been blocked or at least banned since 2002. Even though this law was not properly implemented. Finally in 2010 VoIP applications were recognized for personal use. But there is no clear (indiscernible) for work and it was then to regulate the telecom and protect the telecom and we don't have clear understanding of how this application should be classified as a telecom service or -- and because of that, the trend of blocking this application is increasing even though in many users using it to bypass the blocking. So these are the regulatory issues which are from the government.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thanks very much. So now Robert has a quick follow-up on that.
>> ROBERT PEPPER: I'll come back later with that. I want to be able to --
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: I think we'll have a few responses. Let's follow up directly on that if you want to start it off.
>> ROBERT PEPPER: This is -- I completely understand because this is the traditional model for many countries, especially in emerging markets was to use termination of international calling with what are called accounting rates to generate large amounts of hard currency for those countries and then be able to finance a lot of other projects including telecom. When the telecom markets in the vast majority of countries around the world and competition was introduced. Ethiopia there is a monopoly and that's not the case. It became clear that it's a tax. It became clear that imposing that kind of tax on international calling actually hurt the country because -- and that it was not sustainable. So that -- again, just like it's been very difficult for the operators to make the shift, right, to change their business models, countries that were dependent on this high tax on international calls through accounting rates, as the world changed, it is difficult but they needed to find -- and they have, right, in other countries, they need to find other ways of financing because when you keep the prices very, very high, this is one of the things we found, that we learned. When competition drove the price of international calling down, when the VoIP drove it down to almost nothing, the economic benefit -- first of all, the number of minutes of use an connectivity use went way up, right? Because the sensitivity to pricing is very high. So it is a very elastic service. As the usage went up, as there was more calling and more international calling and especially with countries that have a wide -- with people living around the world and families could connect and get back together the economic benefit to the countries increased.
So instead of looking at it as from a -- what we learned, lesson learned, empirical. When there was a t short term reduction in calling revenue. The long term economic benefit and growth of the country was positive and outweighed the loss of the near term income in the telecom sector. Conversations in many countries that I had when I was at the FCC and now in the private sector with ministers of finance and economy, they want to see the costs of telecommunications go way, way down because they see that as an enabler for growing the overall economy of a country and it is not just about the telecom operator for the telecom sector. You need to have a broader view. This is very difficult for countries in that transition.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: I think that's a very good point. When you get into the sort of specific legislative environment which is different country to country, and you have these vaguely worded laws that can be leveraged to target any platform or service, then you have the added complicating factor that many stakeholders in the national telecom monopoly or like government officials are also the shareholders in that same company, then that's another complicating factor. I guess from an advocacy perspective, Peter, there was a workshop yesterday which basically stated at the very beginning you must put your advocacy in terms of incentives for the policymakers. What are they getting out of making a concession to you? I guess like what -- how do you possibly incentivize for them to allow people to use free VoIP calling.
>> PETER CLEMENT: Yeah, I guess the sad reality I'm trying to say is that you don't incentivize policymakers that you'll liberate free expression. I think you do it by pointing to the agreements, the commitments that they've made, including to reach the sustainable development goals. The global agenda for 2030 is really ambitious. I think perhaps the most ambitious part that I'm aware of is goal 9C, to bring all -- least of all countries online in an affordable way by 2020. That's really intense. That puts a lot of urgency on this. This is something that not only governments but all stakeholders have agreed is a goal for the good of humanity and to eliminate extreme poverty getting back again to the marginalized. That's in part why we're developing these principles of saying that there is more than one flavor of connectivity and you are not going to get those economic benefits. You aren't going to get the full enjoyment of the cross-border connectivity and connections and people won't exercise their right to work without thoughtful and open access to a secure Internet which obviously includes VoIP. And so yeah, we're taking this to the U.N. Goal number 9 is being reviewed this summer at the high-level political forum and we are going to be sure to raise these cases as clear examples of where that goal is not being met, for one thing.
Otherwise we're building norms at the Human Rights Council. We got clear language in the free expression resolution in July calling out intentional disruptions as -- it condemned them. Could not have been clearer. We were overjoyed to get that language from the Human Rights Council. That needs to be input on the national level. I think it was definitely made clear. What we can do at the global level is put in place the structures that enable local stakeholders to find the solutions. Maybe in your UPRs that you are submitting on these countries you can point to Human Rights Council language and say what are you doing to account to this?
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thanks, Peter. Pablo, when it comes to legislative follow-up angle, how tough is it for the life of advocacy practitioners in the Latin American context?
>> For example, I think this is an issue that we'll be on the same side as Facebook. And even though I agree that beating them in their own turf is perhaps the most effective way to swell the legislative and also the policymakers, I do have a small point because, for example, in Chile we have like the first net neutrality rules enacted in the whole world but we got the data on all the decisions and all the decisions in Chile regarding net neutrality are regarding the transparency obligations but not of like -- regarding neutrality. You can watch the streets in Chile and see signs for free social services and everything. So we kind of joke that if ever there is going to be a real enforcement of net neutrality, it is going to come in the competition court and not by the communications regulation. That would be, of course, a victory but a bitter sour victory for us. When this is settled in a competition court, often you are going to see arguments about innovation, arguments about competition but the truth is that the net neutrality law was not enacted only to protect -- to protect competition and protect innovation but also to protect the user's right. So I know that maybe the private sector is going to go that way but also as a Civil Society if we don't raise those issues maybe nobody is going the raise them. For us it is always important to let everybody know that net neutrality is not only about competition and innovation but also the user's right.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thank you. I guess I'll pop a couple of questions to you guys and I think we'll keep the answers brief we can get some participation from other people that are watching. These are some broad dramatic things on my mind. Does VoIP or messaging apps or communication apps constitute a special manifestation of Internet censorship than regular web blocking or as a governance issue how is this different? And then I think my second big question is why has the multi-stakeholder model failed to apply? If you don't think it has, then you can tell us why as well. Who would like to go first?
>> Maybe I can go. Answering your second question why has the multi-stakeholder model failed? I think because VoIP blocking is a really good example of the state capture. It is kind of a sort of political corruption case. So in almost all of these cases there is some kind of arrangement between local companies and the State to enact these kind of regulations that consider the VoIP blocking. And the State is a phenomenon that is difficult to tackle. That's why it's so important to enact multi-stakeholder process. It is really clear if you go and ask the users and you go and ask civil societies how do they feel when an application is blocked. Nobody is going to agree with you. I think the most important part of it.
>> I actually think it depends upon where. So when the -- again, multi-stakeholder approach includes the technical community, Civil Society, the private sector, governments, right? Each acting on the constituencies coming together. When you have government -- two minutes, one, when you look at the private sector, the business sector, it's not homogenous. So you have the Internet companies, you have the application developers, the application providers. They aren't necessarily in the same -- have the same interest as the network operators, especially where the network operator, in this case on the VoIP is owned by the government. And so it's -- in that case it is not really a multi-stakeholder process. The genuine multi-stakeholder process in this area does work. Where it does not work where it isn't a multi-stakeholder process, which is where the government owns the network operator. That's not multi-stakeholder. It's State ownership, but where you have, for example, in the countries where this actually has worked and there have been good examples of where, for example, VoIP has been deregulated such as in India, parts of -- it used to be totally banned and it is becoming much more flexible and opening up is because the -- consumers, citizens, Civil Society, Internet companies, large companies that were having call centers as well as government came together and had a conversation that was a really very fruitful -- it was difficult but it was a very fruitful, very rich conversation as a multi-stakeholder process. So I think we can find examples where that has worked but we can find examples where it hasn't. If you analyze why not, it's not actually I would argue not multi-stakeholder.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Why don't you go ahead. Introduce yourself.
>> I'm Dominic GOSMA. It's an interesting discussion and also I hope if you continue the discussion next year it's on an earlier date so more of us can come. I think also the point of multi-stakeholder and multi-national I was going to make that point, Pepper, about the state-owned Telcos, that's where I've seen in a personal capacity the growth of this, right? But I also want to say that just in my own experience, my personal own experience there is a growing trend for multi-lateral negotiations that would result in either regulatory frameworks, regulations or international standards to legitimize VoIP blocking with state-owned telecoms companies. So as you go through and work within the U.N. system and look at the human rights aspect, I would just say keep an eye out for that sort of growing trend to try to legitimize this internationally in a non-multi-stakeholder way through other processes. It is a concern for me from a personal and human rights perspective.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Okay, thank you. Amin has a comment to add to this discussion. You can put him through.
>> AMIN JOBRAN: So my point is to take it just a little bit on the policy level the more practical on the ground level, which we deal with users on a daily basis and we do face a lot of challenges. And it makes me want to ask the question what is the role that commercial stakeholders like Facebook, for example, can play in helping organizations like ours that work for -- to help empower citizens by giving them access to the Internet to challenge the blocking? So, for example, although we are working to unblock some of their services like Facebook or What’s App or what not, which means for them it's more users and more profit. We keep facing challenges that spring from changes they make in their algorithms and poll seals that don't take into consideration the nuances or local context of different countries and are mainly focused on making profits. They seem similar to the telecom companies when they do the VoIP blocking. Shouldn't commercial stakeholders also account for human rights and access to information rights in their practices without doing it in a selective manner and only where it benefits them? Thank you.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thanks. I guess this falls to Robert to really respond. Maybe Facebook actually has Amin to thank for many cases of users were still able to access their social media or messenger. Would you like to respond?
>> ROBERT PEPPER: So I think it should be clear that as a general matter, we think that everybody should be connected, use any legal application, be able to have -- and not have the types of regulations that block either text or VoIP and What’s App and messenger, etc. One of the things, though, that companies have to do, right, is adhere to laws of different countries. And so there is strong advocacy to change laws where they do things like prohibit VoIP, that's just I think the reality of having to function within law as a company being able to operate. But notwithstanding that, there is aggressive advocacy to eliminate the laws that prohibit certain things, A, and B, where it's not a law that is requiring blocking of VoIP, you will not -- I don't believe -- find the -- any ability or any effort on the part of any of the companies providing things like VoIP to agree to any blocking. In fact, blocking of any sort of application is sort of the opposite of the DNA of all of the Internet companies and application companies. This also goes to your other one of your questions. VoIP and texting are nothing more than applications. It's like -- and earlier the precedent for blocking VoIP is a precedent for blocking applications generally. VoIP, What’s App, messenger, Skype, any of the applications. They are applications and it just happens to be that these applications have functionality that, you know, were provided similar to but not the same as applications that were providing completely different ways in the old telephone world.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Let's ask Khalid what he thinks.
>> Quickly I have many comments really. But I will make it very fast. The first one like about finding an incentive for policymakers. I tried to get the fax number of the minister of justice in Libya and they refused to give me a telephone number. How to persuade them to change policies. We have colleagues in prison just because of a tweet. The multi-stakeholders approach, we are doing our best but there is little recognition for the Civil Society and their rule. And then I get to another problem because we are talking about talking. The website of the Gulf center for human rights is blocked and so is Libya and Oman, United Arab Emirates and with a small talk about free software. We love it when it's free. We reported to have provide access to citizens of this country. It was very costly and it ended quickly.
So really I just ask you if there is a way to make our website available to citizens of these countries. Is there a technical way? Could we work with you about that to provide access to our website in these countries? Thank you. Thank you for all the speakers and for Hanane also.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: We can talk about specifics at another time. I guess, yeah, from the sort of circumvention outreach perspective there is a free and open source tool call Psiphon. We just had the 10-year anniversary of the network last week and it's continuing to be a great success. Maybe Kim if you would like to talk about anything to do with the circumvention outreach. Fair enough. I didn't mean to put you on the spot. Hanane would you like to follow up on that?
>> HANANE BOUJEMI: I wanted to speak about the famous multi-stakeholder model. Based on the meetings that we have with the private sector from the MENA region. It involved all in the policy making process at the global level, they are also unaware of concepts such as net neutrality. There is no knowledge at all about that concept when it comes to the telecom operators. At least the ones we spoke to in the Middle East because we do a lot of ground work in different countries and we identify the gap, the existing gap that there is a need for more outreach. Is this an important stakeholder? We need to get them to the table to speak to us and to speak to the government as well because apparently there isn't even a channel to interact with the government. In the case of Morocco, for example, the head of the regulator was fired after I think the King got to know that VoIP is banned in Morocco. Because it brought a lot of bad light to the country apparently. And it helped that Psiphon luckily was deployed at a larger scale and it helped that people could actually use Twitter to voice their concerns about this operation.
So multi-stakeholders in the Middle East is lacking a lot of stakeholders. We can't assume that the work will be done very easily. There is a need to do a lot of engagement work to actually bring these people to the table. And the engagement work is building that capacity on the subject. They need to understand the concepts we're talking about here at the global level and they need to be more integrated in the discourse and they need to see the benefits from doing that. The incentive for companies, as you said earlier, when you speak human rights to companies, they really don't understand that language very well. In the Middle East the government is the same. If you speak human rights to them it is like somehow they get deaf. They don't want to listen to that. You need to be able to package your message is a certain way to reach out to them and there is a lot of work to be done in that aspect.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thank you, Hanane. We're getting to our final five minutes. If anyone from the floor has anything to add.
>> Hi, thanks for the opportunity.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Introduce yourself.
>> I'm Levine, the president for the Association of -- it's a global carrier association based out of new Delhi, India. I just want to bring one perspective. I think when we talk about application with the service, there is merit to that discussion but we in my view we still have to go an extra mile. There are economies who would still do not want integration between services to services. So as we -- today's world is perfectly converged world but there are networks predominantly voice centric. It is important we should not only talk about application but we should talk about a seamless service which does not have the application. If you talk about service, VoIP, Internet connection. There are other connections, virtual private network service between a public network. If you put in the angle of human rights. There are enterprise users who legitimately require connection between different networks. Revamp these -- allows convergence of all type of applications. Of course, the important point here which came up in the session is about the security. Currently there are security concerns if an application service rides an incumbent network. Keeping those in mind it will make sense if you talk about seamless service against only an application. Thank you so much.
>> I'm also from -- I'm speaking on my personal capacity. My question is with Dr. Robert on this issue. When we are talking for the costing aspect where we're talking the cost base and the -- (indiscernible) but when we are saying that VoIP, it is just as application is there. My question is that under this, whether the principle has been changed and there is a -- (indiscernible) or what network utilize that is call letter tedium. Because we understand there is no change in the cost. Cost is still there. What would be the charging mechanism? You have already mentioned like in the case of U.S. and Canada, -- wise is free because there is a charging different from the others. Like in the Europe charging the same as the CPP. And the same thing is happening in India also. So how we are going to handle especially for the costing? That would be the one of the reasons why the regulators or operators are discussing.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Are there any further questions from the floor? We can add one more or two more. Go ahead, sir.
>> Mine is not basically a question but just to give you a toss on it. I'm from the Government of Ghana and I'm part of the team for the Freedom Online Coalition trying to draft a joint statement for international to prevent government from embarking on such shutdowns. I just want to get your thoughts. I know -- the government can engage in terms, but I want to get your thoughts. What do you think must be included in such statement that can prevent government from shutting down the Internet? Thank you.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Maybe we can do a quick go round and everyone have some final remarks if you have any. Because it is almost time to close the session. Could we start with HALAFAM and maybe yet to focus on one key question, do you view Ethiopia as a place where the multi-stakeholder model has not been applied or has not been successfully applied?
>> Implemented -- so to solve this problems we have already discussed it's important to put the multi-stakeholder model. I think it's important to create consensus to advocate best practices based on this model. Most importantly it is necessary to engage and understand the interest of government. Especially those governments who are practicing blocking. So I don't think all regulatory -- by governments have bad intentions, but unless we engage governments, we have an in-- (indiscernible) and we ended up with bad laws and policies. For example, for every new tool in my country, the government invokes or tries to fix integration on the Internet or they try to fix with new laws but we are less informed about the multi-stakeholder process, what is going on in other countries around the world. This process is very important. So it is necessary to engage especially for civil society and technical people. It is important to understand the service and government.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thank you. Robert, would you like to--
>> ROBERT PEPPER: First, because we don't have time I'm happy to talk about the business model question but the short version is the calling party pays model actually is part of the problem. Because it creates both the economic theoretical problem but the economic practical problem of a termination monopoly and so I'm happy to talk about that. The reality is, the application and Internet and content companies have a symbiotic relationship with the network providers. We cannot exist without a network but we also create the demand for the reasons for people to subscribe to broadband services on those networks. So we have to approach it as a symbiotic relationship and build and work together to have the investment in the networks but also the innovation in the applications. But we have to make sure the economic incentives and signals are correct so I'm very happy to talk to you about that in detail.
Final comment, our colleague in Ethiopia began to touch on this. In an ideal world you have policymakers that are well-intentioned and well-informed making decisions. That's what you want. You want well-informed and well-intentioned decision makers. Unfortunately well very well-intentioned but ill-informed policymakers. Frankly, we also have well-informed but ill-intentioned policymakers. And we have to make sure that we really work towards the well-informed, well-intentioned. I hope that we do not have -- although it's a subset, ill-informed and ill-intentioned but we should all be working for well-informed, well-intentioned decision making and we can sort a lot of the things we see into this paradigm and begin to address some of these issues and the capacity building question which is helping decision makers become better informed.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thank you very much. We'll to go Amin now for some closing remarks.
>> AMIN JOBRAN: So just one remark about the multi-stakeholder model. Multi-stakeholder model works in countries where governments actually care about other stakeholders. So in countries where it's basically governed by the political authority in place that again, like their interests are intertwined with the business sector it becomes necessary to ask the question, why should we really respect the laws of these countries that violate net neutrality and also human rights. So in that sense I would like to say that the multi-stakeholder model in countries where there is harsh laws against even carrying or being -- if you are caught having a VoIP on your phone you could be if trouble, why should we accommodate that as Civil Society or as commercial multi-stakeholders? Thank you.
>> KEITH MCMANAMEN: Thanks. Peter.
>> PETER CLEMENT: This is an excellent session. I think one thing is not to give up on the Telcos. I think we should continue circumventing and continue bringing new providers into the space as -- with new technologies and innovative solutions but, you know, letting a TISLA be a TISLA is not what I want to see now. We sent them a letter and other 16 and it was one of four countries around the world that didn't respond to our letter. A Russian company did and I think we'll continue looking for who their investors are and looking for more ways to find leverage into their operations.
Thank you, Kenneth. I'm really excited about the Freedom Online Coalition's statement and we'll