At the recent Internet Governance Forum (IGF) in Bali, I met Moez Chakchouk, CEO of Tunisian Internet Agency (ATI), who had a fascinating tale to tell.
Pre-revolution, ATI was the agency responsible for all things Internet in Tunisia--the first African country to connect to the Internet. These ranged from dealing with ISPs, running the IXP, domain names, DNS, IP address allocation, as well as censorship and surveillance. One infamous incident the agency faced was when activists started the Ammar404 campaign, referring to the 404 error code for displaying censored pages, in protest against the ATI.
Post-revolution, the options for ATI were understandably bleak. ATI could not operate the way it previously did despite years of building up the country's infrastructure and expertise.
Stepping into his CEO role, Moez had to chart the new course and led the agency on a path of openness and best practices. This process was greatly aided by the local and international civil society as well as Tunisian netizens.
ATI gave up its monopoly on Internet exchange services--a private entity now operates a second Internet exchange, removing the single point of failure risk--and introduced IP transit services. Instead of censoring the Web, it now promotes freedom of expression and online privacy.
Ammar404 morphed into 404Labs, an open innovation development labs.
The result? The country's Internet penetration has gone up and commercial operators are queuing up to interconnect traffic for the Maghreb African region.
In light of the developments in Tunisia, I would highlight to those currently involved in censorship and worried they would work themselves out of a job should their country follow the same path, the ATI experience shows they can look forward to more work promoting the Internet than there was stifling it.