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National Internet Outages - The New Normal?

Gabon's ongoing "Internet curfew" is, unfortunately, representative of the new normal for Internet connectivity in some countries.  After experiencing a near complete Internet outage in the country from September 1-5, connectivity returned.  However, since that time, the country has put a so-called "curfew" into place, with Internet connectivity regularly disrupted each day between 6:00 PM and 6:00 AM local time.

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According to published reports, this month's first blackout on Internet connectivity in Gabon was initially imposed amid clashes between opposition protesters and security forces following the announcement that incumbent President Ali Bongo had won reelection by a slim margin.  Such government action is, unfortunately not all that unusual, as governments in other countries have taken similar steps in response to political unrest or similar situations.  A previous multi-day outage in Gabon was covered in the Second Quarter, 2015 State of the Internet Report, reportedly caused by sabotage of an underwater fiber optic cable that provides connectivity to Gabon; that followed outages in the first quarter of 2015 purportedly caused by striking Gabon Telecom workers. 

While Gabon's regular "curfew" outages are somewhat more unusual in that they predictably occur on a daily basis, they are not unprecedented.  The Second Quarter, 2016 State of the Internet Report highlights regular outages that occurred in Iraq across a total of 10 days in May and June 2016.  Nearly all of the country's international Internet connectivity was severed for two to four hours during each of those days, reportedly to prevent cheating on national middle and high school exams.  Interestingly, this is not the first time such measures have been taken - the Iraqi government has imposed similar outages in the past to prevent cheating on national exams.


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A similar pattern of Internet outages in Syria also occurred during the second quarter, although the specific reasons for these disruptions is currently unknown - there's no indication that they were a prophylactic measure, as Iraq's were.  As shown in the Second Quarter, 2016 State of the Internet Report, multi-hour disruptions to Syria's Internet connectivity were seen across a total of 10 days during June.  A nationwide power outage in March disrupted the country's Internet connectivity for several hours in March, and was discussed in the First Quarter, 2016 State of the Internet Report, while previous issues of the report have covered other Syrian Internet outages.


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While some wide-scale Internet disruptions are unintended and occur due to natural disasters (such as earthquakes) or accidents (such as ship anchors severing submarine cables), some governments are increasingly shutting down or severely limiting Internet access across their countries.  We've seen such outages take place in Egypt, Sudan, and Syria.  Most often, it has been done in response to civil or political unrest, attempting to mitigate communications both within and outside the country, in an effort to limit planning efforts for demonstrations and similar activities.  Countries with a high level of Internet "fragility" - that is, centralized control of national Internet infrastructure and a limited number of international links - are at the highest risk of government-directed nationwide Internet shutdowns.

Additional insight into these and other Internet outages can be found in the "Internet Disruptions & Events" section of the Second Quarter, 2016 State of the Internet Report, which will be published on September 29 on akamai.com. If you're interested in more information on how these outages happen - that is, how an entire country's Internet connectivity can be disrupted - please stay tuned for an upcoming blog post from my colleague Katheryn Hewitt.

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