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Egyptian Internet remains mostly blocked

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A near-wholesale disconnect of the Internet in Egypt persisted over the weekend as protesters continued to challenge the three-decade rule of President Hosni Mubarak.

Most Egyptian Internet service providers shut off connectivity around the same time during the evening of Jan. 27 (see graph), with independent estimates of Egyptian Internet availability ranging by 9 percent to 7 percent of the norm. Apparently unaffected by the officially-ordered shutdown is Egyptian ISP Noor Group, which accounts for just 8 percent of normal Egyptian ISP traffic according to one estimate, but counts among its customers the Egyptian stock exchange and a host of transnational companies, including FedEx, Toyota and Coca-Cola.

 

"This sequencing looks like people getting phone calls, one at a time, telling them to take themselves off the air," said James Cowie, chief technology officer of Manchester, N.H.-based Renesys, an Internet traffic monitoring firm. "Not an automated system that takes all providers down at once; instead, the incumbent leads and other providers follow meekly one by one until Egypt is silenced,' he said on the company's blog.

Roughly a quarter of nearly 80.5 million Egyptians use the Internet, according to figure of the CIA World Factbook.

Egyptians unable to access an Noor connection have nonetheless found ways to connect to the Internet through dial up connections via international calls, whether on a landline or through mobile phones. One website has put up instructions for using Bluetooth phones to connect to a remote ISP and Internet activists We Rebuild has posted a clutch of dial up numbers and logon information. An interactive map of Tweets from the Cairo region shows some activity (see below).

Mobile voice service, which the government ordered suspended shortly after the Internet, was apparently at least partially restored Saturday. London-based Vodafone said in a statement that it had been ordered to shut off its network by Egyptian authorities but had brought back voice connectivity on the morning of Jan. 29.

"It has been clear to us that there were no legal or practical options open to Vodafone, or any of the mobile operators in Egypt, but to comply with the demands of the authorities," the company added. Vodafone is one of three mobile operators in Egypt, according to the Financial Times.

Usage among Internet-connected Egyptians of traffic-anonymizing software Tor had spiked from fewer than 500 users on Jan. 24 to more than 2,500 on Jan. 27, according to Tor Project numbers. Before almost totally disconnecting the Internet, the Egyptian government had reportedly attempted to block social media sites including Facebook and Twitter in an attempt to prevent protesters from communicating amongst themselves.

During Jan. 28 remarks, President Obama called on the Egyptian government "to reverse the actions that they've taken to interfere with access to the Internet, to cellphone service and to social networks that do so much to connect people in the 21st century."

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Jan. 30 during a round of interviews on Sunday morning talk shows that the United States "is advocating dialogue between the government, civil society and other stakeholders to chart the course for Egypt's future as soon as possible."

"The United States is not advocating any specific outcome in this process," she added.

The State Department has allowed non-emergency personnel in Egypt to leave and on Jan. 30 told U.S. citizens in the country that it will provide cost-reimbursable transportation to locations in Europe.

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