Europe’s government and its mobile operators are not doing enough to alleviate the suffering caused by their near neighbours and customers in Ukraine, according to a number of industry stakeholders.
Digital rights organisation Access Now and Brussels-based global comms bridging specialist BICS have both issued open letters calling on the EU and Europe’s mobile operators to use their leverage to help.
Matteo Gatta, CEO of BICS, says telcos can do more than just offer free phone calls. Gatta has appealed to telcos to be more pro-active in easing the suffering arising out of the war in Ukraine, through an open letter to European mobile operators.
“We must do everything we can to connect Ukrainian citizens with their loved ones, out of the country,” says Gatta’s letter.
“I am urging EU mobile operators to remove all charges on voice calls coming out of Ukraine and terminating into their networks. BICS will play its role by carrying this traffic at no cost.
At the very least, European Mobile operators should bring their termination costs in line with MTR costs (mobile termination rates) for calls within the European Union, which will still allow Ukrainian operators to reduce the cost of these calls for their subscribers. Also in this case, BICS will play its role by carrying this traffic at no cost.”
The letter ends with a call for action from mobile operators: “Telecoms is critical infrastructure and being able to connect people with their loved ones has never been more important than it is now. I call for united action in this urgent time of need.”
Meanwhile, digital citizen protector Access Now has appealed to the EU to do more, through an open letter to the EU.
In a statement, Access Now said the EU must do everything in its power to ensure the safety and wellbeing of people affected by Russia’s attack on Ukraine. It called on the EU to work with tech platforms and telecoms operators to uphold connectivity, access to accurate information, data protection and non-discrimination at the border.
“Russia has launched a full-scale war on Ukraine. The European Union must immediately use its full capacity to help keep people as safe, secure, and connected as possible,” said Natalia Krapiva, the Tech-Legal Counsel at Access Now. “We must empower people to access accurate information, protect the privacy of millions as they escape, keep those on the move connected to their loved ones and do everything possible to treat everyone fairly.”
Access Now has laid out four courses of actions it would like to see taken in support of people affected by the war on Ukraine. These involve connections, online platforms, data protection and non-discrimination.
The Connectivity act would involve asking telecom operators and internet providers to protect infrastructure, waive charges for all communications from and to Ukraine, lift SIM registration for anyone arriving in the EU territory from Ukraine and boosting network capacity.
The Online platform initiative involves keeping platforms and communications services available in Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, continuing the demonetisation of ‘certain actors spreading disinformation’ and upholding the suspension of Russia Today, Sputnik and Russian state-sponsored propaganda actors from online platforms, including in Russia.
The data protection plan would ensure that the EU border agency welcomes people fleeing into the EU and abides by data protection rules. To this end it is calling on tech and telecoms companies to limit data collections of people leaving Ukraine. It also urges mobile operators not to comply with Russian data localisation requirements to avoid persecution of dissidents and journalists.
The four policy is non-discrimination at the border. This involves reversing actions that prevent people from accessing services, such as the freezing of assets, due to their nationality. It also calls for the borders to be open for all people leaving Ukraine, including third-country nationals and people of colour living and studying in Ukraine.
“In times of crises, people need to stay connected — to each other, and to life-saving information,” said Fanny Hidvegi, Europe Policy Director at Access Now. “Russia’s war on Ukraine is affecting millions of people, and the European Union has both the power and the responsibility to ensure the internet and all telecommunications are accessible for all. Decisions and interventions must come now.”