VOIP services have experienced frequent interruptions in many areas across Egypt over the last two days, prompting many to wonder if the regulator or telcos were blocking services for economic reasons.
According to a report, Egypt has disrupted VOIP services this week for users who use messaging apps like Apple’s FaceTime, Viber, Skype, Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.
However, the National Telecom Regulatory Authority (NTRA) said that it has no information about the interruption, an NTRA official said, and the NTRA also refuted via Twitter rumors circulated on social media about the blocking of VOIP services in Egypt.
The three mobile operators in Egypt—Vodafone, Mobinil and Etisalat—have previously asked NTRA to block VOIP services such as voice calls on Facebook, Skype and Facetime.
Late last year, Egypt also blocked the highly encrypted app Signal forcing users to download a virtual private network (VPN) program as with this month’s partial block – messaging still works without a VPN.
The NTRA is said to be planning to frame new rules to control mobile internet services, including WhatsApp, Viber, YouTube, and social media networks. A panel has been formed to study the social, economic and security aspects of the matter.
The Egyptian government has been accused of suppressing freedom of expression and political dissent by shutting down voice calling apps Skype, Viber, and WhatsApp. Activists have accused that VoIP has been blocked for users of at least three telecom providers.
Using the internet for long-distance calling in Egypt has been illegal, punishable by jail or fine, and Skype has been blocked in the country since 2010.
Skype, WhatsApp, and Viber are some of the most widely-used VoIP players. Talking via the internet is low-cost or free—making it a very appealing technology in emerging market countries like Egypt, particularly for long-distance or international communication.
Currently, VOIP services are blocked in many countries in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates (UAE).