Myanmar internet blackout worsens

Myanmar internet blackout worsens

Junta shuts down all wireless broadband as protest movement scrambles to find ways to communicate

A woman uses her mobile phone to check Facebook in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar on March 16. (Stringer via AFP)

A woman uses her mobile phone to check Facebook in Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar on March 16. (Stringer via AFP)

Opponents of military rule in Myanmar marched and laid bouquets of flowers on Friday while trying to find alternative ways to organise as authorities cut off most users in the country from the internet.

The military regime on Thursday ordered internet service providers to completely shut down wireless broadband services, just days after business groups collectively requested a halt to damaging internet service disruptions.

In a text to customers, the local operator Ooredoo said the junta-appointed Ministry of Transport and Communications issued a directive on Thursday instructing “all wireless broadband data services to be temporarily suspended from today until further notice”.

“Only fibre (to home) lines will be working from tomorrow),” an Ooreedoo employee was quoted as saying late Thursday.

Cutting all WiFi based on wireless access will add to the growing restrictions on the country’s telecoms and internet space. The junta already imposed a total data blackout twice since the coup, blocked social media platforms and websites, put in place a nightly internet shutdown, and banned mobile internet access.

Further reducing internet access will likely raise fears about the worsening violence by the security forces away from the public eye. As of March 31, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners recorded a total of 536 people killed, including dozens of children, and 2,729 detained.

Ahead of the suspension of internet services, social media was flooded with posts and tweets reflecting anxiety of the impending news blackout, with some listing recommended independent FM radio stations as the only way to sustain protest momentum.

“Myanmar is slowly fading from your feeds. Many of us fear it’s only a matter of time before there is a complete blackout. … Please never stop shouting for us,” said a tweet from one young woman quoted by Nikkei Asia.

The move would particularly hit communications of the rural population because fibre-optic networks are available primarily in big cities like Yangon.

An industry estimate cited by Nikkei suggested there were about 600,000 “fibre to the home” (FTTH) accounts in the country. Mytel, a joint venture between the Myanmar and Vietnamese military and currently hit by a huge consumer boycott locally, is the biggest operator in the FTTH market.

Protests have taken place almost daily since the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb 1.

On Friday, security forces opened fire at a rally near Mandalay, wounding four people, two critically, according to three domestic media organisations.

In the town of Tamu on the Indian border, a policemen who supported the democracy movement was killed in a clash with security forces, the Monywa Gazette reported.

Pro-democracy groups on Thursday and Friday were busy sharing information on radio frequencies, offline apps that work without a data connection, and tips for using SMS as an alternative to data services to communicate.

“In the following days, there are street protests. Do as many guerrilla strikes as you can. Please join,” Khin Sadar, a protest leader, said on Facebook in anticipation of the internet blackout, referring to quick protests in unexpected places that break up when the security forces appear.

“Let’s listen to the radio again. Let’s make phone calls to each other too.”

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