Sometimes Internet is too small to go round

May 9, 2016

They say that Internet unites people, which is difficult to argue. Users of the World Wide Web can call their relatives in Europe, find a groupmate from another state in Facebook or apply for an exotic job somewhere on Cayman Islands – all at any time of the day. It seems sometimes that borders between countries and regions are constantly disappearing.

Sometimes Internet is too small to go round

The notion of online freedom and independence on the Internet started to show signs of stress and decay over a decade ago. It’s also possible that the World Wide Web will come apart and we all will have Splinternet instead of Internet. This unusual name is used to denominate a number of local area networks, divided by the geographical borders of different countries and regulated by local laws.

Even now you can find enough examples of how Splinternet will look. It’s possible due to a number of reasons like bad network infrastructure in certain regions, politics, law and a possible amazing driver as “historical reasons.”

The Great Wall of China 2.0

To see the Internet under strict governmental control you have to go to China. If you want to access Facebook, YouTube or Twitter, read blogs running on Blogspot and WordPress or watch a video on Vimeo, you’ll have to bypass the great firewall of China. The people of China have partial access to Wikipedia, but the articles that deal with country’s politics are blocked.

https://twitter.com/Socialist_Times/status/728749776854986752

There are local analogues for all these websites. Those few people who want to reach beyond the firewall and access original web portals have to use VPN. Usually the Chinese search for Facebook or YouTube only if they have used them before. And this primarily applies to the people who studied abroad, have foreign friends and relatives, those who need these sites for work as English tutors or software developers. Many other people in the country say that nationwide firewall is quite useful and the majority of Chinese people are not ready to surf the Internet unprotected.

VPN in China is quite slow. To a large extend this sloth-like pace can be explained by the fact that there are only three main gateways, which can let users out to the global web. They are located northward, near Bejing, in the center of the country in Shanghai and southward, in Guangzhou. As traffic passes through these gateways, packets are “mirrored” and monitored by the government, which also slows the process down. However slow this Internet is, it is these three gateways that draw the efficient difference between the Chinese network and the North Korean intranet.

North Korea: just a humble LAN-party

Some North Korean citizens have “Internet” access – if that can be called Internet at all. They have a local network, which is proudly named Kwangmyong (it can be translated as “bright”). Kwangmyong has no physical connection to the World Wide Web.

The only way to access Kwangmyong is to use dial-up lines. It is estimated that there are no more than a few thousand sites on the intranet, and their content is created by the Korean Computer Centre, which translates selected scientific articles form the Internet adding some political propaganda. Kwangmyong is officially free to use, but very few people can access it due to governmental restrictions and simply because computers are too pricy for an average North Korean citizen that earns about $30 per month. As for the World Wide Web, only embassies, chosen government officials and special services can access Internet.

Nevertheless, you cannot say that North Korea completely avoids modern technologies. On the contrary, it seems that the government had brought up its own team of hackers and regularly uses them to flex some cyber-muscles in front of the the remaining world. Not so long ago the country made boast of their cyberfighters after they hacked Sony Pictures. All in all, local intranet not only isolates citizens from the world but also protects the network from any counter attack. So why not to hack several foreign companies if you are almost invulnerable?

India: why so slow?

Internet access in India is rather slow basically because of the poor infrastructure. A curious fact: the thing that stops providers from switching to fiber optics and offering higher speeds is the lack of demand for the high speed internet. Why? Because many companies follow the so called Fair Usage Policy, which slows your access speed down if you use more than agreed.

As Indian citizens admit, their Internet providers would readily run a fiber optics cable to their house if there would be at least a dozen of people who wanted it. Having enough clients providers would be able to cut down prices — as it always happens in such situations. The thing is that it’s not easy to gather enough volunteers — nobody wants to be the first.

Sometimes Internet is too small to go round

How to leave three countries disconnected with one shovel

One can say that you need a team of experienced hackers to deprive a whole country of Internet access. It turned out that it takes only a 75 year old Georgian woman, a shovel and poorly protected infrastructure.

In March 2011 she was digging for copper not far from Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. During the “exploration works” her spade damaged the fibre-optic cable which transferred 99% of Internet traffic to Armenia and some regions in Georgia and Azerbaijan. As the result in March 28 these regions were forced to stay offline for 12 hours.

As it turned out, this cable had been damaged several times before by copper and potato hunters. One year earlier there was a similar incident, fortunately with less striking consequences. This enviable consistency can be explained by the weather, which regularly opens access to the cable to different saboteurs.

The cable enters Georgia territory through the Black Sea, in the Poti seaport. Then it branches, and wires come to Armenia and Azerbaijan. To protect it from vandals the cable was laid in an underground tunnel digged parallel to the railway. But heavy rainfalls sometimes cause falling-in of the bank. It looks like the aged Georgian woman and other diggers reached the cable during these periods.

The Internet’s backbone survived a number of other noteworthy incidents. In 2013 in Egypt three copper hunters looked for the colored metal and cut a piece of underwater cables. As the result Internet speed in the country decreased by 60%. In 2008 Egypt, India, Pakistan and Kuwait suffered from a similar incident, which took place near Alexandria coast.

Vandals were not the only people to blame for Internet blackout in Egypt. In 2011 local authorities successfully did the same (and shut down cellular connection as well). Moreover, they did it with the help of just several phone calls to local providers — nothing more turned to be necessary.

However Egypt is not alone in this matter. There are a lot of countries with limited Internet. Last year the Freedom House organization published a report, which named TOP 10 countries with the most censored Internet.

As a final titbit let’s look at this world map designed by Renesys company. It shows, which countries can be quickly disconnected from the World Wide Web. For example, Russia and the USA are connected with the whole world via dozens cable routes – these two would be difficult to disconnect. Countries with a less-developed infrastructure are more vulnerable. You can find Syria, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Myanmar and Yemen among them.

Sometimes Internet is too small to go round