More trouble for Egypt when the lights flick back on

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More trouble for Egypt when the lights flick back on

Country faces technical, business concerns after disconnection.

As Egypt faces its fifth day of a Government-imposed internet blackout, analysts and anti-censorship groups have warned of technical, political and business challenges to come even if political unrest in the country is resolved.

Most of the country's internet routing addresses were withdrawn simultaneously on Friday, in Government attempts to curb protests against President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year-rule.

At around 8am in Sydney today, Egypt's last functional internet service provider, Noor Data Networks, went offline.

Jonatan Walck of net activist group Telecomix said the move was a world first, arguing that the internet was merely one communication channel for people who fuelled the protest.

"Shutting down internet almost entirely is unheard of, and I have seen nothing like what Egypt did," he told iTnews.

"If they had twitter, they would tweet. If they need to make a call chain, that would be it. If they just need to get out of the door and take their neighbours with them, they would.

"No, I believe if anything, [shutting down the internet] fuelled the protests," he said.

Joining organisations such as Google and Twitter in providing methods for Egyptians to communicate online, Telecomix maintained a pool of dial-up internet connections that activists could use for free.

It also monitored amateur radio channels and offered to publish faxed messages online. But further challenges would arise when the country returned online, Walck predicted.

"I expect internet [use] to be monitored much more closely," he explained.

"It's obvious that the current regime understands the internet is something worth putting time and effort into if you want control, and it's likely whoever is in power later on will know the same."

Today, Telecomix regarded Egypt as being on "the same level as North Korea and Burma in internet censorship" amid rumours that Egyptian phone lines were to be shut down.

The group was working on cryptographic methods to bypass any government censorship that might occur in Egypt when connections were restored.

Walck expected a reconnected Egypt to require darknets like TOR and I2P, email and web encryption, virtual private networks and proxies for communications to remain free of government control.

Meanwhile, analysts and the Internet Society warned that businesses could shun Egypt after seeing the Government shut down mobile and internet services.

The Egyptian Stock Exchange - which went offline with network provider Noor today - has fallen sharply since the so-called "Jan. 25" protests began.

Although the January 28 withdrawal of Egyptian border gateway protocol routes did not appear to affect international traffic that crossed Egypt, the Internet Society warned that connections to neighbouring regions may be disrupted if the country's 52 ISPs came back online at once.

"If the Egyptian government reinstates connections quickly, there is likely to be a lot of churn in the routing system, which will possibly further affect neighbouring regions' traffic," the society stated.

"Also, this action will have a lasting impact on international corporations' interest in doing business within Egypt.

"Whether they consider withdrawing their equipment and services, or simply refuse to establish peering links with Egypt, it could have a lasting impact on Egypt's ability to establish effective and efficient network connections to the rest of the world."

Ovum telecommunications analyst Angel Dobardziev said mobile operators such as Vodafone, Blackberry and Google would be encouraged to more carefully weigh the "political risk of operating in emerging markets" against growth opportunities.

Vodafone shut down its Egyptian mobile network at the Government's command last week, and restored voice communications "as soon as [it was] able" on Saturday morning.

Dobardziev blamed the "telecoms boom" in Egypt for accelerating a clash between more conservative, authoritarian traditions and more modern aspirations for open information access.

"As events in Egypt show, the road ahead may be rocky for all, including telcos and the people they serve," he stated.

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