SEEsummary #47

April 2021

Issue no. 47 of the SEEsummary, published on 5 May 2021, by SEEDIG. This issue covers Internet governance and digital policy developments that occurred in South Eastern Europe and the neighbouring area (SEE+) in April 2021. Also included: a list of upcoming events and opportunities in May.

Country contributors to this issue: Katarina Gevorgyan, Vasile Popa, Sorina Teleanu. Editors: Meri Baghdasaryan, Grațiela Dumitrescu, Aleksandra Ivanković, Neli Odishvili. Coordination and final editing: Olga Kyryliuk. Design: Charalampos Kyritsis.

Telecommunications infrastructure

At the auction held on 6 April 2021, the Communications Regulation Commission of Bulgaria awarded 5G frequency licences with national coverage to the three leading telecommunication companies operating in the country.  A1 Bulgaria, Bulgarian Telecommunications Company and Telenor Bulgaria received 20-year licences with spectrum coverage ranging in-between 3500-3800 MHz and prices starting from 4.1 million levs up to 4.7 million levs (approx. 8–9.2 million euro). More about the disputed 5G auction process you can find in the SEEsummary Issue no. 46.

Greek largest mobile network operator Cosmote officially announced a phase-out of 3G services nationwide until the end of the year, starting from September. This measure will pave the way for a faster 4G and 5G networks rollout. According to Cosmote, its 4G network currently covers 99 percent of the Greek population, while its 5G coverage is expected to exceed 50 percent by the end of 2021. In major Greek cities of Athens and Thessaloniki, the 5G adoption already exceeds 90 percent of the population, while 17 other cities have 5G coverage with speed over 1Gbps in certain areas.

A controversial legislative proposal on 5G equipment reported in the SEESummary Issue no. 43 was finally passed by the Romanian government and sent for the parliament’s consideration. The draft law on the adoption of measures related to information and communication infrastructure of national interest and the conditions for 5G network deployment prevents China and Huawei from deploying 5G networks in the country. This act is consistent with previous negotiations between the U.S. and Romania to deter Chinese technology expansion for security concerns. Before its approval, the draft bill underwent public consultation. Several state bodies provided critical observations, unanimously stating that the document does not comply with the 5G EU Toolbox by failing to specify technical criteria for the authorisation process and categorise network assets into critical and non-critical. The 5G draft law initiators ignored the above concerns entirely and sent the bill to the parliament.

Content policy

The Russian parliament adopted and sent for the president’s signature a draft law on social advertising on the Internet. The bill applies to owners of information resources that offer advertising to Russian users and have a daily audience of over 100 000 users. The bill may affect companies like Yandex, Mail.ru Group, Rambler, Google and Facebook. Similar requirements are suggested to be expanded to owners of advertising systems using special software to distribute ads on third-party websites. Advertising quotas are currently in force on television and banners. According to the draft law, a social advertising operator, a dedicated nonprofit organisation selected by the Ministry of Digital Affairs for five years, will calculate the obligatory share of socially significant content and determine the formats for distributing social advertising. Allegedly, advertising quotas are aimed to provide nonprofit organisations with additional tools to promote their initiatives and activities.

According to a newly published report, in March 2021, Facebook removed 14 coordinated inauthentic behaviour (CIB) networks operating from 11 countries, including Albania and Georgia. Prohibited CIB network from Albania consisted of 128 accounts, 41 pages, 21 groups, and 146 Instagram accounts targeting global audiences. Reportedly, this network was linked to Mojahedin-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled militant opposition group from Iran, and its Albania-based troll farm. Additionally, Facebook removed 23 Facebook accounts, 24 pages, 12 groups, and 11 Instagram accounts from Georgia, targeting domestic audiences. The company connected CIB activities to individuals related to a political party, Georgian March and its youth wing.

Back in autumn 2020, Facebook removed a network of 589 Facebook accounts, 7 665 pages and 437 accounts on Instagram for the coordinated inauthentic behaviour that originated in Azerbaijan. The network posted primarily in Azerbaijani on domestic and regional news and developments. Further, a Guardian investigation of extensive internal documentation revealed a loophole in Facebook that was used by many countries, including Azerbaijan, to leave millions of harassing comments on the Facebook pages of independent news outlets and Azerbaijani opposition politicians. More recently, another Guardian investigation uncovered that this network was back to Facebook.

Following the protests in January and February this year, several tech companies were fined or sued for non-compliance with the national laws in Russia. Thus, video-sharing platform TikTok received a fine of 2.6 million rubles (34 000 dollars) after a court ruled that the company failed to remove content related to unsanctioned rallies. Telegram, Facebook, and Google are awaiting court hearings for the same motives in May. In its turn, with a total of 8.9 million rubles (116 700 dollars) fines allegedly for not removing posts inciting minors to attend the anti-Kremlin protests, Twitter is facing a prolonged service slowdown until 15 May. Simultaneously, Russian and Twitter officials reported constructive dialogue between the two parties on the measures required to ensure that reports of illegal content are processed expeditiously. On the other side, Zoom acted proactively and restricted the use of its software by companies with state-owned assets in Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States. The individual users can still use the platform. In response, the Russian authorities urged local tech companies to design alternative video-conferencing solutions, while some officials spoke in favour of banning Zoom in Russia as a reciprocal measure.

Access & Development

With the European Union’s financial support, UNDP opened two pilot IT Solutions Centers in Kramatorsk, Donetsk region, and Severodonetsk, Luhansk region, in Eastern Ukraine. Each centre has 30 workplaces with computers, laptops, whiteboards, projectors, etc. The centres will serve as spaces for IT developers and users to create digital solutions for the benefit of local communities and contribute to narrowing the digital divide. In addition, they will provide opportunities to participate in online learning activities and enhance cooperation between higher education institutions for IT professionals, as well as become community hubs for exchanges between the local and state governments, the public and the media.

Information society & Digital economy

In mid-April 2021, the president of Ukraine signed a bill that equates digital passports with plastic ID cards and paper passports. However, digital passports are available only to those Ukrainians who have an ID card or biometric passport (as opposed to a paper passport). While simplifying the access to many services inside the country, they cannot be used to cross the state border and the contact line with the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine. The digital passports were initially introduced in April 2020 as one of the pilot services available in the e-government app ‘Diia’. According to the new law, starting from August 2021, the digital documents will have the same legal force as their paper copies for identification purposes. While other countries, such as Poland or Estonia, similarly introduced digital documents, Ukraine will be the first to treat the paper and digital versions as legal equivalents. In September 2021, Ukraine will start piloting the ‘paperless’ regime.

The European Union’s EU4Digital Facility published a report highlighting the recommendations on harmonising e-commerce between the Eastern Partnership (EaP) countries and the European Union (EU). The three main areas for harmonisation include ecosystem, legal framework and standards. The recommendations followed the EU baseline study, state of play analysis in the EaP countries, expert review, consultations and informed the design of six national action plans for in-country implementation by various stakeholder groups. One of the proposed recommendations – creating a virtual warehouse of the local goods – will be piloted between Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the EU to automatically exchange sales, customs, and delivery information.

Turkey’s Competition Authority imposed a 296 million lira (36.65 million dollars) fine on Google for abusing its dominant position in providing search engine services. According to the authorities, Google provided advantages to its own accommodation price comparison services over its competitors. Additionally to the fine, within the next six months, Google has to ensure that competitors are not disadvantaged. Annually for the next five years, the company has to submit a report on competition issues to the national authority.

Capacity development

In cooperation with TBC Bank, the Mashawi Center, the Embassy of Israel in Georgia, and the United Nations Women, the USAID Economic Security Program launched the annual Grace Hopper Award to encourage women’s involvement in technology in Georgia. The award is named after Grace Hopper, a prominent American computer scientist. It is the first national program to acknowledge local girls and women in the information and communication technology (ICT) industry and recognise organisations that promote women’s increased participation in the ICT sector. Individuals, organisations and programs can be nominated under six categories – Leader of the Future, ICT Champion, Technology Startup, Women Empowerment Program, Diversity Supporter, Supporter of Women’s Empowerment in the ICT Sector.

Upcoming opportunities

Upcoming deadlines

The Cybercrime Programme Office of the Council of Europe opened a call for applications for a Senior Project Officer position to work on one of its capacity-building projects, iProceeds 2, targeting crime proceeds on the Internet and securing electronic evidence in South-East Europe and Turkey. The position is based in Bucharest. The deadline for submitting applications is 17 May 2021 via the Council of Europe online system. More details about the position can be found in the call for applications.

Upcoming events

11-12 May 2021 Online

17-19 May 2021 Online

17-21 May 2021 Online

22 May 2021 Istanbul, Turkey

24-28 May 2021 Online

25-26 May 2021 Online

26 May 2021 Online

26-27 May 2021 Online

27 May 2021 Online

Editorial note

The SEEsummary is produced on a best effort basis, by our team of volunteer editors and contributors. Each month, the editors scan local and regional media, as well as websites of public institutions and other organisations, and compile what they find to be some of the most significant digital policy developments.

The SEEsummary does not claim to be a comprehensive source of information. Despite our efforts, we may miss some things happening across the region. To help us cover as many significant developments as possible, we invite you to share with us news from your countries.