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SEEsummary #44

December 2020 & January 2021​

Issue no. 44 of the SEEsummary, published on 2 February 2021. This issue covers Internet governance and digital policy developments that occurred in South Eastern Europe and the neighbouring area (SEE+) in December 2020 and January 2021. Also included: an overview of national IGFs and a list of upcoming events and opportunities in February.

Country contributors to this issue: Maja Calovic, Katarina Gevorgyan, Aleksandra Ivanković, Marko Paloski, Sorina Teleanu. Editors: Meri Baghdasaryan, Maja Calovic, Grațiela Dumitrescu, Aleksandra Ivanković, Neli Odishvili, Veronica Stefan. Coordination and final editing: Olga Kyryliuk. Design: Charalampos Kyritsis.

Telecommunications infrastructure

The Belarusian national telecom company Beltelecom finished 5G network testing and is ready for deployment. The technology is already used in the China-Belarus Great Stone Industrial Park to test pilotless transportation solutions and smart road crossings. It is largely intended to address digital inequality between urban and rural areas.

Meanwhile, Cyprus announced four provisional winners of the 5G licenses auction, including Cyprus Telecommunications Authority, Epic Ltd, Cablenet Communication Systems PLC and Primetel PLC. The total price of radio spectrum sales reached EUR 41.6 million. The first 5G networks will start operating in the first quarter of 2021. By the end of 2025, the selected providers committed to cover with 5G networks 70 percent of the population and all highways in Cyprus. 

Greek telecom provider WIND Hellas selected Ericsson, a telecom equipment manufacturer, as its core network vendor for standalone (SA) and non-standalone (NSA) 5G to provide a faster and more reliable connection. Ericsson will deploy the secure, cloud-native, container-based dual-mode 5G Core software with full support services within the next five years. Country’s upgrade to 5G is expected to become a basis for much needed economic boost.

Slovenian telecom regulator AKOS launched a public tender for the provision of public telecom services, including 5G. The tender came as a response to the local telecom operators’ interest and to meet the European Commission rules on spectrum allocation. The final decisions on the tender are expected to be announced by mid-2021.  

Finally, Georgia and the United States concluded a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to cooperate in promoting a vibrant, secure and robust 5G ecosystem. They expressly referred to the Prague Proposals from the Prague 5G Security Conference and emphasised the importance of trustworthy network 5G hardware and software suppliers

In December 2020, the Hellenic Telecommunications and Posts Commission (EETT) issued a license to SpaceX, the space company of high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, allowing it to connect Greece to its Starlink broadband satellite Internet. The deployment is planned for the first quarter of 2021. The new provider will ensure 100 percent Internet coverage with speeds reaching up to 150 Mbps, but the cost will increase by about 20 percent. Starlink is a satellite constellation in low earth orbit aimed at providing low-cost, high-performance Internet access anywhere in the world. So far, SpaceX got permission to deploy up to 11 943 satellites and is requesting permission to deploy 30 000 satellites in other orbits.

Dr Michalis Matthaiou, a Greek scientist and chair of the Communications Engineering and Signal Processing at Queen’s University Belfast, works with his team on transferring the academic concepts of 6G wireless technologies into the practical realm. According to the initial design, 6G will not replace 5G but will use the already existing 5G infrastructures. Potentially, 6G technology might be launched by 2030 and will boost connected robotics and autonomous systems, wireless brain-computer interaction, haptic communication, etc. While the international competition in this field is intense, this team received the European Research Council Consolidator Grant of EUR 2 million and currently works on illustrating the feasible potential of 6G technologies planning to commercialise the actual prototypes afterwards.

On 18 December 2020, Serbia’s government officially opened the second State Data Centre (SDC) after more than a year since the beginning of its construction. The new SDC is based in Kragujevac, a city in central Serbia, and has 1080 rack cabinets’ capacity located on 14 000 square meters. The public officials emphasised the importance of modern SDC infrastructure for faster public administration digitalisation and safer storage of citizens’ data. The SDC capacities are also available for rent to private entities. The U.S. technology company IBM and Chinese telecom equipment and services company Huawei became the first commercial users.

Access and development

Each year the European Commission releases a Women in Digital (WiD) Scoreboard as part of its Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI). The scoreboard provides an assessment of the women participation in the digital economy. Member states’ performance is evaluated in three areas: Internet use, Internet user skills, and specialist skills and employment. During the 2020 assessment round, the Commission identified that just 18 percent of ICT specialists are female. At the same time, women in Bulgaria, Romania, and Greece are the least likely to be taking part in the digital economy, either through employment, use of the Internet, or skills. Croatia, Cyprus, and Slovenia are ranked just slightly higher but are still at the rating’s bottom part. More detailed information and data can be found in country reports.

On 17 December 2020, the National Assembly of Serbia adopted the Law on Digital Assets to bridge this field’s legal gap. Simultaneously, the parliament passed some amendments to tax regulations defining the digital assets’ tax status. The new law specifies two types of digital assets – virtual currencies and digital tokens and envisages all other related services subject to licensing. The rules are technology-neutral, apply to any digital assets regardless of the underlying technology, permit digital assets’ issuance and secondary trading through organised platforms. The law came into force on 29 December 2020 and will start applying six months later. For more details about the law, check the SEEsummary #42.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine and the Stellar Development Foundation (SDF), a San Francisco based nonprofit cryptocurrency organisation, signed a Memorandum of Understanding and Cooperation to design a virtual assets ecosystem and national digital currency of Ukraine. SDF will officially launch its activities in Ukraine in August 2021. The Ministry keeps working on creating the respective legal environment for the development of virtual assets in Ukraine.

Content policy

In December 2020, the Information and Communications Technologies Authority of Turkey (BTK) imposed TRY 30 million (approx.  EUR 3.10 million) fines on the largest social media companies: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Periscope, and TikTok for a failure to appoint legal representatives in the country. According to digital media law, which entered into force in October 2020, all social media companies should appoint country representatives to deal with the Turkish courts’ orders related to content blocking or removal. Before, the BTK already fined these companies for non-compliance with the law and gave them 30 days to fix the issue, but none of them responded to the requests (see SEEsummary #43). If the companies comply with the law within the next three months, the fine will be reduced by 75 percent. Otherwise, they will face an advertising ban and bandwidth reduction. In January 2021, the authorities moved further and imposed advertising bans on Twitter, Periscope and Pinterest. The other companies announced they are willing to abide by the new law.

On 30 December 2020, the President of Russia signed two laws allowing authorities to restrict access to social media. According to the first law, websites can be restricted or entirely blocked upon complaints from the state outlets that their accounts were treated with prejudice by Twitter, Facebook or Youtube. The law responds to Twitter, labelling several Russian media outlets’ accounts as ‘state-affiliated media’. The second law introduced fines for Internet providers and websites of up to 20 percent of their previous year’s turnover in Russia for repeatedly failing to remove banned content.

Meanwhile, Turkey’s competition authority opened an investigation against WhatsApp after a new privacy update that requires users to share more data with its parent company Facebook. According to the company’s announcement, users who disagree will not be able to use the app after 8 February. The Turkish authorities call for the new rule suspension until the investigation is over and it is determined whether the new requirement breaks Turkish law. The government urged Turkish citizens to delete WhatsApp and download a locally developed messaging app called BiP, with some users shifting to Telegram and Signal.

The Romanian High Court of Cassation and Justice ruled that creating a fake social media account using as a username the name of another person and publishing real personal data allowing for that person’s identification constitutes a criminal offence in the form of digital fraud. In this case, a man was sentenced to three years and eight months imprisonment for blackmail, digital fraud, and privacy breach by posting intimate images of his ex-girlfriend on a social network and opening pornography site accounts in her name.

Finally, North Macedonia authorities threatened to block the messaging app Telegram if it fails to shut down a group with more than 7000 users sharing non-consensual pornography and underage girls’ images. Telegram complied with the request, but new similar groups started emerging. Police began an investigation against a few individuals involved in managing that group.

Cybersecurity and cybercrime

According to recent EU member states’ decision, Bucharest led among six other candidate cities and became headquarters for the future European Cybersecurity Industrial, Technology and Research Competence Centre (ECCC). The Centre will be the first EU institution in Romania. It will promote technological research and innovation to unite cybersecurity efforts across the EU. Both Digital Europe and Horizon Europe financing programmes will commit funds for research purposes. The development of public-private partnerships and ensuring coordination between the member states’ cybersecurity national centres are among key ECCC priorities. Negotiations with the European Parliament on the proposed regulation establishing the Centre are ongoing. Once it is adopted, the ECCC will start its operations and remain functioning until 31 December 2029.

End of December 2020, Turkey’s president signed the National Cyber Security Strategy and a three-year Action Plan (2020-2023) including 40 actions and 75 implementation steps required to achieve eight strategic goals. The documents underline both the importance of information and communications technologies for countries’ sustainable development and the risks they pose to all sectors of economy and life. Among key goals are ensuring continuous protection of critical infrastructure, developing domestic and national technological possibilities, and increasing cyber incident response teams’ competence.

German authorities confiscated and shut down more than 20 DarkMarket servers located in Moldova and Ukraine during the international police operation supported by Europol. DarkMarket is the world’s largest illegal marketplace on the dark web used to sell drugs, counterfeit money, stolen or falsified credit cards, anonymous SIM cards, and malware. The data stored on the servers will contribute to ongoing investigations helping to identify moderators, sellers, and buyers. Over 320 000 transactions were conducted via the platform amounting to around EUR 140 million in cryptocurrency. The police arrested an Australian citizen allegedly operating the DarkMarket.

Capacity development

Ukraine replied to political unrest in Belarus by providing favourable relocation conditions to Belarusian qualified tech specialists. As of December 2020, the Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Transformation reported nearly 40 tech companies and 2000 freelancers that moved from Belarus. Ukraine offers newcomers a visa-free regime, smooth integration due to similar language and culture, and a favourable 5 percent revenue tax for private entrepreneurs. The government developed a dedicated website with step-by-step instructions on how to move to Ukraine, containing legal advice, useful information and links. According to some estimations, this brain drain will have a negative impact on the Belarusian economy as the information technology sector accounts for 22 percent of the country’s exports and secures 6 percent of gross domestic product.

Armenian towns of Gavar and Berd joined the TUMO Center for Creative Technologies project by opening the very first TUMO Boxes. TUMO Center is a unique space providing free alternative education at the intersection of technology and design to young people aged 12 to 18. Currently, the Center expands throughout Armenia with the TUMO Box project aimed at making the TUMO curriculum accessible to young people in small communities. The Boxes are technically equipped mini TUMO rooms, where the students begin their self-learning phase, and then continue with the workshops and labs in the nearby TUMO Center in Dilijan. Each TUMO box can train around 300 young people annually. The number of boxes will continue to grow in 2021.

Privacy and data protection

In December 2020 and January 2021, four international companies appointed their data protection representatives in Serbia. Both Alibaba and Yahoo notified the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance and Personal Data Protection of their decision to appoint the law firm Karanović & Partners as their respective representative. The data protection representative for AiCure is the law firm SOG / Samardžić Oreški Grbović, while a lawyer Snežana Marković is representing TOPTAL. The Commissioner once again appealed to foreign companies encouraging them to appoint data protection representatives in Serbia. You can find more information about compliance by the international companies with the Serbian Data Protection Law in the previous issues of the SEEsummary.

Competition & Consumer protection

The Romanian Competition Authority imposed a EUR 6.7 million fine on Dante International SA, the eMag e-commerce platform operator. The investigation in this case started back in 2017 and in December 2020 finally revealed the company’s abuse of its dominant position on the eMag marketplace platform. The company admitted its anticompetitive practice of favouring its own products between January 2013 and June 2019. The confession led to a decreased fine. To avoid similar problems in the future, the company should make changes to algorithms transparency by better informing commercial partners on how they work and refraining from manually altering the platform’s results. It should also introduce a non-discriminatory data management system for data collected and stored through the eMag platform and improve complaints policy.

National & Youth IGFs

National IGF

On 2-3 December 2020, Georgia hosted the sixth Internet Governance Forum – GeoIGF 2020, this time fully online. The agenda included nine plenary sessions addressing current Internet-related challenges in the country and featuring such topics as gigabit society, freedom of expression online, artificial intelligence and personal data protection, Georgian top-level domain .ge-zone challenges, information security ecosystem, media literacy, cyber readiness, COVID-19 and online learning. GeoIGF2020 was organised by Small and Medium Telecom Operators’ Association of Georgia with the support of the Council of Europe, Internet Society, ICANN, RIPE NCC, the Ministry of Economy and Sustainable Development of Georgia and the National Communications Commission.

The sixth Youth IGF Turkey was held entirely online with the overall theme ‘Is a different digital life possible?’. Organised with the support of ISOC-TR, ICANN, and in partnership with DiploFoundation and the Media Literacy Association, the event featured interactive and creative sessions held on Zoom, live-streamed via YouTube and Facebook. Each of three event days had a specific subtheme: who runs the Internet; remote learning and working; esports, music and technology, and a living library session with tech giants’ employees from Turkey. Over 2 130 participants attended the event. All sessions are available on the forum’s YouTube channel (in Turkish).

On 15 December 2020, North Macedonia organised the fourth annual Internet Governance Forum (IGF MKD). It was a one-day online event featuring an overview of the pandemic influence on 2020 Internet governance events and youth initiatives and changes brought by COVID-19 to different sectors. The participants discussed a wide variety of topics: from digitalisation in the educational process, protecting the consumers’ rights online, to intellectual property rights and artificial intelligence. The recordings of the whole event can be found at IGF MKD YouTube channel.

Upcoming opportunities

Upcoming deadlines

As part of the annual meeting planning process, SEEDIG is inviting applications for SEEDIG 7 Programme Committee (PC). The PC will be primarily charged with shaping the SEEDIG 7 programme in close cooperation with the Executive Committee and the broader SEEDIG community’s involvement. The roles, responsibilities and working methods of the PC are available in the PC Guidelines. The applications should be submitted via an online form until 5 February

Additionally, SEEDIG is currently accepting suggestions for Internet governance and digital policy topics in response to its SEEDIG 7 call for issues that will remain open until 15 February.

SEEDIG is welcoming nominations for the two seats on the Executive Committee within the 2021 partial election process framework. SEEDIG community members can nominate themselves or other members by submitting the nomination form until 7 February 2021. All interested candidates are invited first to read the guidelines and the FAQs related to the election process to get familiar with the eligibility criteria, full election process, and the election calendar.

The Youth Dialogue on Internet Governance (YOUthDIG) is inviting applications from young people aged 18-30, residents of the Council of Europe member states, with a strong interest in Internet governance and digital policy. YOUthDIG is an annual pre-event to the European Dialogue on Internet Governance (EuroDIG) aimed at fostering active youth participation. Its 2021 programme will consist of an online phase (April-June 2021) with regular exchanges, presentations by participants and virtual learning opportunities, and the participation in the EuroDIG on-site meeting (26-30 June) in Trieste, Italy (if eventual travel restrictions allow). Interested candidates should submit applications by 7 February 2021 via an online form.

Internet Society is accepting nominations for four positions at the Board of Directors of the Public Interest Registry (PIR), which manages the international registry of .org, .ngo, and .ong domain names, along with associated internationalised domain names (IDNs). The new directors’ terms begin in mid-2021, with two members appointed for two years and the other two for three years. More details about the requirements and nomination procedure can be found in an open call. The deadline for (self)nominations is 18:00 UTC on 16 February 2021.

The Coordination Center for TLD .RU/.РФ released new interactive educational materials within its ‘Study the Internet & Govern It’ project. Presented modules encompass 15 new games focused on three main topics: Internet Culture, Universal Acceptance and Digital State, combining both theoretical part and practical tasks. Through the games (puzzles, crosswords, tests, arcade games) users can learn about different technologies and how they are applied in everyday life. To access educational games, users need to register on the official website.

Upcoming events

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.