Here’s What It Looks Like When an Entire Country Loses the Internet

4/23/13Follow @curtwoodward

When you deliver nearly a third of global Web traffic, you get to see a lot of crazy stuff happen.

Akamai Technologies (NASDAQ: AKAM), the global Internet traffic provider, is giving us a glimpse at some of those wild scenarios today in its latest “State of the Internet” report.

The company, based in Cambridge, MA, tracks a wide variety of statistics in its quarterly reports, including domestic and global Internet speeds, mobile connectivity, unique IP addresses, and attacks by hackers.

But one of the most arresting scenarios in the report was a multi-country study in what happens when an entire nation’s Internet access is shut down (or close to it).

Perhaps the most troubling Internet shutdown tracked by Akamai was in Syria, the scene of a bloody civil war that poses threats to stability in broader Middle East. The country’s Internet access went down about midday local time on Nov. 29 and didn’t return until Dec. 1, in an episode that was widely noted at the time.

The graph below shows Akamai’s view of the outage, which cut HTTP traffic served to the country to zero:

Akamai notes that the Syrian government blamed the outage on “terrorists,” although the U.S State Department blamed the Syrian government for the shutdown. News outlets reported that landline phone access in the country also was hobbled around the same time. Two more Internet shutdowns happened in Syria in the following days, Akamai notes, although those episodes were much shorter.

Internet access also can be crippled by good, old-fashioned technical limitations—particularly if a country doesn’t have multiple ways of connecting to the Internet. Bangladesh’s 90-minute connection outage in December was a prime example of this, as shown below:

This outage was actually due to some planned maintenance on the SMW4 cable, which connects South Asia, the Middle East and Western Europe. It had been, for many years, Bangladesh’s sole link to the Internet—a fact that had cropped up in previous outages, like this cut cable in June 2012. Luckily for residents of the world’s seventh most-populous country, an additional Internet link via a land-based cable connection to India is now apparently in place as a backup, Internet monitoring firm Renesys reported earlier this year.

The third outage was in Senegal, and although this event wasn’t a total shutdown like those seen in Bangladesh and Syria, it still severely crimped people’s ability to connect to the network. Akamai says the huge drop in traffic, which lasted for about 11 hours starting on Dec. 19, was likely due to a spike in “routing announcements” activity through the country’s primary service provider, Sonatel Dakar.

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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