For all the talk about the Internet being in the hands of the people, as a vehicle to democracy, it appears that it is relatively easy to close it down, at least if your regime is one that doesn’t care about democracy or free speech, such as in China or Libya.
So how exactly is this done?
Firstly, any ISPs based in Libya are simply told to turn off their connectivity. These could be their public routers or their entire backbone. Of course closing the entire backbone is a more severe sanction and will prevent the government and its allies from using it also. It is possible they allow access to certain users or organisations such as the army and civil service.
With Libyan based ISPs effectivly shutdown, what other methods of internet connection are available? Satellite Internet and phone systems were being jammed and Libya is well known for this for jamming an Arab satellite system in 2006 (one it had shares in, so perhaps not the best financial move there, Colonel)
However, Satellite internet connections are very expensive compared to regular adsl or cable, and this is in a country which has a very low level of internet usage at 5.5%, compared to say, Egypt at 21.2% or Bahrain at 88%. Source : http://www.internetworldstats.com/
Another way is to connect by dial up modems to overseas phone numbers and other solutions such as the phone to tweet service. Although Libya can also close telephone networks, the more drastic the measure, the more it restricts the whole economy and government’s normal operations. Not every government official or civil servant has a miltary radio.
I don’t know if it’s me, but there seems a reluctance by the tv stations to trust the “underground” reporting coming from Libya. Although apparently the Internet is now back to normal in Libya, there is little information coming out of the government controlled areas. Maybe this is more an issue of terror than a technological one.
Today’s announcements of sanctions against the regime in my opinion are gestures by the West so as to be seen doing something. Sanctions are only likely to hurt the people and restricting arms sales is something that needs to be done over years. The suggestion of a “no fly” zone has met largely with silence. The rest of the Arab regimes are probably keeping out of it for fear of their own fates. Perhaps the West are concerned about the huge investments they have in Libya, particularly the oil installations, and also the safety of citizens still in Libya. Perhaps the world is hedging its bets, as they will have to deal with whoever is victorious.