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Egypt blocks country’s Internet access during massive protests

Facing massive protests, the government of Egypt today cut off Internet and cell service to almost all of the country’s 80 million residents, hoping to remove the ease with which protesters have coordinated and communicated, the New York Times reports.

The Times report links to a blog post by James Cowie, an employee of Renesys, who wrote earlier today:

Critical European-Asian fiber-optic routes through Egypt appear to be unaffected for now. But every Egyptian provider, every business, bank, Internet cafe, website, school, embassy, and government office that relied on the big four Egyptian ISPs for their Internet connectivity is now cut off from the rest of the world. Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, Etisalat Misr, and all their customers and partners are, for the moment, off the air.

By the end of the day, Cowie reported that an estimated 93 percent of Egyptian networks were still unreachable from the rest of the world. From the pattern of ISP shutdowns, it appears not to have been some automatic apparatus for severing the connections instantly. Rather, it appeared as if government officials were contacting the providers by phone, one by one.

In case some might claim that it was simply server overload cutting off the country, the Huffington Post claimed late in the evening to have confirmation that the Internet was blocked from a tech enthusiast who did some IP routing to the American embassy in Cairo.

The Times reporter notes that it was, ironically, Egypt’s previous lack of censorship when it came to electronic media that made this particular shut down so drastically effective.

As a result, he said, the companies that provide Internet service have had little reason to expect a shutdown, and so did not prepare alternative communications channels or workarounds.

Egypt and the rest of the world are now scrambling to build those workarounds, as ComputerWorld reports:

“When countries block, we evolve,” an activist with the group We Rebuild wrote in a Twitter message on Friday.

That’s just what many Egyptians have been doing this week, as groups like We Rebuild scramble to keep the country connected to the outside world, turning to landline telephones, fax machines and even ham radio to keep information flowing in and out of the country.

People in Egypt with dial-up connections may not be able to reach the Internet via their local ISPs, but they can reach them by dialing an international ISP from a landline, and a number of groups are creating options for Egyptians to use to stay connected, ComputerWorld reports.

David Knowles, writing for AOL News, doesn’t think that the blockade will be able to hold out for long. Check out his rationale on the AOL Surge Desk blog.