MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, 15 October 2007
Low-cost voice communication blocked
“An attack on net neutrality and an act of censorship,” was how Miguel Acosta, editor of New York-based Paraguayan newspaper Mirador Paraguayo, referred to the measure taken by the Paraguayan Communication Company (COPACO – Compañía Paraguaya de Comunicación) to block the session initiation protocol (SIP) as of 22 June 2007. This protocol allows access to internet telephony or voice over internet protocol (VoIP) at costs well below those of traditional phone companies.
In a related development, a recent report by the state-owned Importers and Exporters Network of Paraguay (REDIEX – Red de Importadores y Exportadores del Paraguay) recommended eliminating COPACO’s monopoly in access to international optical fibre cables, and drastically changing the position on internet telephony “in order to overcome technological backwardness”. However, for the country’s president, “this is not the right moment”.
VoIP is not a “service” that can be provided and controlled by telephone companies. It is a freely available technology over internet protocol which greatly reduces the cost of voice communication. This system became very popular precisely because of its low cost, and caused controversy in Paraguay and elsewhere due to the competition created for conventional private and state telephone company monopolies.
“This is not the right moment”
Paraguay’s president, Nicanor Duarte Frutos, declared in a press conference that he has no intention of “liberalising” internet services because “this is not the right moment”. He also accused two private companies of being “pirates”.
Civil society has responded forcefully to this situation. The Internet for All Committee (COIT – Coordinadora Internet para Todos), which brings together several non-governmental organisations, demanded the immediate lifting of the internet monopoly. Members of COIT revealed that only 3.5% of Paraguayans have access to this service and asked President Nicanor Duarte to proclaim the liberalisation decree.
Sergio Rojas Astigarraga, of the Paraguay Silvestre organisation, felt it was important to exert pressure to put an end to the violation of Paraguayan citizens’ rights. He believes that censorship imposed by the block is designed to favour political interests in the current electoral campaign. “As a friend of mine says, the harvest goes to the Crown,” he pointed out.
Chile sets a precedent
In a historic decision that sets a precedent for eliminating monopolies and privileges in the region, on 6 July 2007 Chile’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of RedVoiss [a VoIP provider in the country] and forced Telefónica to pay a fine for blocking ports. The Third District Court confirmed the ruling of the Competition Court (TDLC – Tribunal de Defensa de la Libre Competencia) in favour of RedVoiss, and rejected the appeal presented by Telefónica CTC Chile, requiring the telephone and internet provider to pay a fine to the Treasury and “to abstain from restricting or obstructing” the use of the broadband network as a vehicle for IP telephony.
“Denunciations” by the state
In a recent report by REDIEX, government neglect appears as one of the major factors in technological backwardness. Paradoxically, REDIEX is a government agency and part of the Ministry of Industry and Commerce.
The report recommends radically revising the structure and goals of the telecommunications regulating body, the National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL – Comisión Nacional de Telecomunicaciones), to “get it back on track”: assuring free market competition and defending users’ interests.
Juan de Urraza, head of the Oportunet en Paraguay project, explains that “net neutrality is one of the basic principles upon which the internet, as we know it, has been built.” This means that services are placed on the edges of the network, and the network itself transmits everything without examining, classifying or prioritising. The provider simply commits to transfer information up to a certain maximum speed and nothing more, without indicating what type of information. […] Blocking some types of content could be considered censorship and an attack on the neutrality of the network, as well as on the rights of the users.
Some of the rights affected by the block are freedom of expression and thought, due to censorship of content, and freedom to exchange information between people and institutions, due to censorship of protocols. Privacy rights are also violated because information sent is examined in order to classify and decide whether or not to block it.
The block on this technology affects all internet users and in particular the 40% of Paraguayans with relatives outside the country. With VoIP technology, they pay about 132 guaranies (USD 0.03) per minute for a call to Spain, compared to the 3,190 guaranies (USD 0.65) rate charged by COPACO. This measure also means economic losses for cybercafés and telecentres, and further isolates rural areas.