To silence dissidents, the Egyptian government made a move Jan. 28 that has no precedent: It turned off the Internet nationwide. And the same thing happened in the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon since Jan 18 2017.
But how did they do it?
According to David Clark, an MIT computer scientist whose research focuses on Internet architecture and development, a government’s ability to control the Internet depends on its control of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the private sector companies that grant Internet access to customers (in this case MTN Cameroon, Orange Cameroon, and Nexttel).
ISPs have direct control of the Internet, so what happens in any country depends on the control that the state has over those ISPs. Some countries regulate the ISPs much more heavily. China has in the past ‘turned off‘ the Internet in various regions.
When a government orders the ISP to disable service, Clark explained, “they have lots of ways of doing it technically. They could power down devices (which is sort of like unplugging things), or change the routing tables (which is more like a “digital kill,” and can serve to allow selective services to stay up).“
In Egypt’s case, the government owns the main service provider (Telecom Egypt), according to William Lehr, another Internet expert at MIT. “[This allows the Egyptian state to wage] significant control over the international telecom interconnection facilities that provide the physical transport for the international Internet connections,” Lehr wrote to Life’s Little Mysteries. “Shutting off those circuits effectively shuts off the traffic from Egypt to the rest of the world that occurs over those circuits.“
In Cameroon, the government owns CAMTEL. But shutting down internet by CAMTEL alone won’t have had a significant impact on these two regions because the private ISPs have practically won the internet market. Therefore the government had to somehow “Blackmail” the ISPs. In fear of losing their licenses, the ISPs had no other option than to comply.
How to Bypass this internet Blackout
There are basically two ways to bypass this internet blackout.
- Move out to other regions having internet. That’s the cheapest solution so far. Many Cameroonians from the NW and SW have moved out to other regions like the Littoral, West, and Centre. This enables them to continue using their acquired internet plans from their various ISPs. This option is suitable for individuals since they can easily move along. It’s more easier for individuals having relatives in these “francophone” regions.
- Acquire a satellite internet connection. This option is also good, and it’s suitable for those who don’t want to relocate to other regions, i.e you will have internet in the NW or SW regions. The only drawback for this option is that it’s too expensive, hence not suitable for individuals. It’s a very good option for companies since they can’t easily relocate a whole office to a different region. There are many satellite ISPs available in Cameroon and across Africa. Prices vary from ISP to ISP, but to have a complete kit, you might need to keep over 1.5 million CFA F.