Banning Skype rumors in Egypt
|Tuesday, March 16,2010 20:44|
|By Joseph Mayton|
CAIRO: Egyptian bloggers have been musing over whether the international calling site Skype will be blocked in the country. Global Voices first reported the rumors after a few bloggers commented on Vodafone Egypt purportedly told them they could not access Skype using their 3G mobile modem device. The rumors have yet to be substantiated and mystery surrounds the possible move to limit the use of the internet calling application.
Blogger Israa el-Sakka wrote that she was unable to log into to Skype and when she called Vodafone they told her that Telecom Egypt had told the company to bar users from using Skype.
“Vodafone’s customer service indicated that Telecom Egypt is going to block Skype in Egypt, and that it’s out of their hands,” she said. “After repeated calls from various people to Vodafone’s customer service, they were told ‘Skype is being blocked since March 13 based on an order from Telecom Egypt’.”
The possible blocking of Skype comes as Egypt was listed as an “enemy of the Internet” by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in a report published March 12.
However, others are not so sure the site is in fact being blocked. Top blogger Zeinobia said that Skype “works fine with TE Data, which by its turn is a subsidiary of Telecom Egypt. Still, I will not be surprised to find out that Egypt will block Skype because Telecom Egypt and Mobinil phone operators are mad that people are using Skype for free in international calls.”
That may be the crux of the matter. Users on Skype can call one another for free if both have accounts on Skype. It has made connecting to loved ones, friends and relatives a lot easier in the past few years as all one needs is a computer and a high-speed Internet connection to make phone calls.
On Monday afternoon, when Bikya Masr checked Skype, the site was working fine and a phone call was made to the United States. Vodafone Egypt said that the mobile modems are the only aspect that is barring users from Skype. They confirmed that Telecom Egypt had told them to curtail the use of Skype, but added that it “is a bandwith issue because if too many people are on at once using Skype it could crash the network.”
Still, the worries are legitimate, said Ahmed Mansour, a IT consultant who has worked with TE Data. He said that last year, when the Internet providers tried to cap bandwith the government stepped in and said no, but this time “they might see it in their best interest to allow the companies, in the name of speed and the system to ban Skype. It would be plausible deniability.”
Egypt, which is worried over online activism growing in the country may see banning Skype as a means of cutting off the easy lifelines to the West. The ministry of information would not comment on the possible banning of the phone application when contacted, which has left a number wondering if the government has a hand in the affair.
“I can get on Skype today, but it would not shock me if the government tells the providers that they can do this in the name of better Internet functionality,” began Rania Mahoud, a student at the American University in Cairo (AUC), who had her headphones on and was already dialing a number to a friend in France. “I talk about the political situation here and I am sure they can’t hear in on our conversations, so this is very dangerous to the government,” she added.
For now, at least, it appears Skype is available for users in Egypt from their personal computers, but only if they have a solid connection and are not using the 3G mobile modems.