Presentación en panel "VoIP Crackdown: Implications for Government, Telecom, and Civil Society"

Comparto con ustedes mi intervención en el panel titulado "VoIP Crackdown: Implications for Government, Telecom, and Civil Society", que tuvo lugar en el Internet Governance Forum 2016. Colaboraron con esta intervención Juan Carlos Lara y Gisela Perez de Acha.


In 2012 an industry spokesman called Net Neutrality “a solution in search of a problem.” For them, the principle that protects free speech and innovation online was irrelevant, as blocking had neve happened. And if it did, market forces would compel Internet service providers to correct course and re-open their networks.

Years and experience have shown that in fact voIP blocking is a reality, and for us, as a Latin American organization, the consequences of such conduct impacts human rights.

That is because freedom of expression not only means that everyone has the right to freely express their opinions, but also the right to seek, receive and impart information through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Any kind of limitation has to fulfill the three-part test set in Article 19(3). That is, the limitation:
  1. Has to be provided by law: 
  2. There must be a legitimate aim to limit the right to freedom of expression. 
  3. Must be truly necessary. 

The Latin American region has seen plenty of instances of VoIP blocking, mostly motivated by commercial purposes and aided by the lack of net neutrality rules and strong antitrust mechanisms. These do not comply with these International Human Rights standards

Voissnet is a local Chilean Internet provider. In 2003 the company offered more convenient prices to internet users than Telefónica de Chile. In this scenario, Telefónica took action to obstruct and slow down Voissnet services through technical means. Voissnet then sued Telefónica under free competition law, accusing the latter company of unfair practices hindering free competition. Telefónica’s argument for the defence was based on the lack of a specific regulation for the provision of broadband services, therefore being allowed to block certain protocols. In 2007, the Supreme Court of Chile ordered Telefónica to stop imposing limitations. Some of the rationale behind the Supreme Court's decision lived on as part of the Net Neutrality law enacted in 2010, under which such a practice would be considered illegal.

In 2015 Brasil Telecom blocked VoIP traffic using a network management software called NarusInsight. Brasil Telecom chose the software so that they could regulate IP telephony within Brazil and stop revenue loss due to VoIP. Later on, the Marco Civil de Internet explicitly prohibited these types of practices by imposing the obligation to treat all data packages under the same standards. Currently we have no example of enforcement of these rules. However, for completely different reasons, WhatsApp has been blocked several times.

Belize Telecommunications Limited are blocking VoIP providers such as Vonage and Skype and many others. In fact the company went so far as to block Google Talk, MSN Messenger and Yahoo! IM because they also offered voice as well as text chat.
Also in 2015, Telmex, one of the most important telecommunication companies in Latin America, blocked Skype in Mexico. To the date, the Mexican telecommunication authority has not regulated the issue even though it is arguably against the Mexican Constitution, so these acts are left unpunished.


From a human rights defenders' perspective, we must not overlook the true nature, and thus the true effects, of these kinds of blocking. Similarities and differences aside, one key thing in common with other jurisdictions around the world where VoIP blocks happen is the effect that this has for the population: a limited internet, with lower possibilities for communication where those possibilities should be dramatically increased as allowed by technology.

A limited capacity to choose the services that better fit with our needs for privacy and security. A limited capability for people with certain disabilities to connect and communicate with others. A limited capability to communicate at lower costs for people in isolated places and for the economically disadvantaged. A hindered capability to use the internet as the catalyst for the exercise of human rights in the most diverse ways.

Worst of all: when policies or practice allow it, a precedent for other services to be blocked or limited. This is what makes strong net neutrality rules, not just in principle but also in enforcement mechanisms, more necessary than ever.

When this is addressed as a highly technical regulatory issue, or when we only see it through the prism of competition law, or when we address it only as a technical problem to be technically solved by tech-savvy folks, that effect in the general population is often overlooked and ignored.

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