Damaged cable causes Internet blackout in four West African countries

Crossposted on the OpenNet Initiative Blog

Five days ago, the Appfrica tech blog reported an Internet blackout in Benin, a West African country roughly the size of Ohio. The outage, which also affected neighboring Togo, Niger and Nigeria, was caused by damage to the SAT-3 submarine communications cable, which links Portugal and Spain to South Africa via the West African coastline.

The Internet blackout left Benin, Togo and Niger without an optical fiber link to the outside world, meaning Internet users in these countries have been forced to rely on rare, expensive satellite connections to get online. Appfrica managing editor Theresa Carpenter Sondjo, who is based in Benin, writes:

The line to use the computers runs out the door. Every computer is taken, and most have two or three people hovering over its operator. I am the only woman.

In Nigeria, the damage to the SAT-3 cable has affected approximately 70 percent of the country's bandwidth, "crippling" bank services and Internet access. Access issues in the country are further complicated by the failure of Nigerian telecommunications operator Nitel to pay its dues to the SAT-3 Consortium, which has disconnected the Nigerian end of the cable.

Speaking yesterday to Nigeria's Business Day, Lanre Ajayi, the president of the Nigeria Internet Group, described the cable as "a critical national resource because of its importance to the economy and to security." Ajayi has called on the government to declare the SAT-3 cable a "critical national infrastructure."

When damage to the FLAG and SEA-ME-WE 4 undersea cable systems disrupted service in the Middle East and South Asia, knocking out a substantial percentage of Internet activity in Egypt, India and several other countries, operators were able to reroute service and continue to provide access.

In West Africa, rerouting is more difficult: SAT-3 is the only cable connecting the region to the rest of the world, and telecoms operators must negotiate deals with neighboring countries to direct Internet traffic overland until it reaches another country's landing cable. Benin's landing cable services all four countries affected by the damage. Benin has managed to work out an alternate path that routes traffic through the landing cable in Côte d'Ivoire, but Togo and Niger are unable to afford the necessary deals. They will likely have to rely on satellite access until a repair ship, on its way from South Africa, reaches Benin and fixes the cable. The blackout is expected to last at least 10 days in total.

Strangely, news of the blackout has yet to reach the international media. Though Internet penetration rates in the affected countries are low — Nigeria is the highest, at 7.3 percent; with Togo (5.4 percent), Benin (1.9 percent) and Niger (0.5 percent) following — a blackout of this scale seems to deserve more attention than it's gotten thus far. The lack of press coverage begs the question: if the Internet disappears in four countries, but the countries are in Africa, is it still a story?

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GV Africa: The arrival of Seacom cable sparks debate

My next post is up at Global Voices Online:

The arrival of an undersea cable that will increase bandwidth and lower Internet access costs throughout Africa has sparked debate and interest in the African blogoshere. Seacom, which links South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda and Mozambique to Europe and Asia, went live on Thursday, connecting eastern and southern Africa to the global broadband network.

Johannesburg, Nairobi and Kampala received their connections on Thursday, and Addis Ababa and Kigali are expected to follow. The cable's arrival was originally scheduled for early July, but pirate attacks off the coast of Somalia delayed operations.

Read more »

Lots of bloggers in this one: IT Blog Kenya, In an African Minute, TechMasai, NaijaBlog, Kachwanya, True Kenyan, Issa Michuzi [SW], and Jellyfish, plus Twitter-ers ncallegari, dnyaga, mentalacrobatic and akianastasiou.

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No more Namibia: China blocks search results for entire country

Crossposted at the ONI Blog

According to the Chinese government, Namibia — a southern African country with a population of 2 million — does not exist.

Government censors ordered Chinese search engines to show no search results for the country's name this week, following a corruption scandal involving a Chinese tech company's dealings with Namibia's government.

The company, Nutech, was formerly run by the son of Chinese president Hu Jintao. It is under two separate investigations by Namibian and European Union officials for allegedly using illegal methods, including bribery and unfair trade practices, to secure a USD55.3 million contract to sell cargo scanners to the Namibian government.

Though Jintao's son is not a suspect in the case, government censors have reacted swiftly to the investigation, shutting down two Chinese tech news sites and blocking a list of keywords including "Hu Haifeng, Namibia, Namibia bribery investigation, Yang Fan bribery investigation, Nuctech bribery investigation, [and] southern Africa bribery investigation." Searching for these words on Chinese search engine Baidu.com produces an error message [ZH] that can be translated as, "Search results may not be in line with the relevant laws and regulations and policies, not shown."

The past two months have been busy ones for Chinese censors. In early June the government blocked access to Twitter, Hotmail and Flickr in preparation for the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. Less than a week later, the news broke that the government would begin requiring all PCs sold in the country to come equipped with Internet filtering software. And in July, Internet access was completely shut down in the capital of the Xinjiang region after ethnic riots that left nearly 200 people dead.

For more information on China's Internet filtering practices, check out the OpenNet Initiative's recently released China country profile.

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GV Uganda: Government Quiet as Famine Takes Toll

My next piece is up at Global Voices:
As drought spreads throughout East Africa, more than three million Ugandans are at risk of starvation. According to a recent Oxfam report, the famine is the result of spectacular climate change in the region. Massive floods in 2007 ruined crops and eroded fields throughout northern and eastern Uganda. The current drought, which is also affecting neighboring Kenya, has worsened the food shortage and led to the current crisis. Hunger has claimed the lives of more than 40 people in the northern and eastern parts of the country, and bloggers fear more will die before the government takes notice.

Read more »

Bloggers Antipop, Eizzy, Kyomuhendo-Ateenyi and Josh are featured.

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giorgos cheliotis: mapping the global commons

Liveblogging Giorgos Cheliotis's presentation on Mapping the Global Commons: A Quantitative Perspective on Free Cultural Practice at the Berkman Center. Please excuse misrepresentation, misinterpretation, typos and general stupidity.
Cheliotis is interested in measuring the use of the Creative Commons content pool. How much content exists? How free/open is it? How fast is it changing? How much of it is being remixed and fed back into the pool?

You can try to count everything individually, or you can use estimates, community-specific data, external reports and local knowledge. There's an inverse relationship between the scale and the accuracy/richness of your data.

The CC Monitor project tracks the global development of Creative Commons (CC) licensing. It is still being developed, but the project has been tracking the use of CC licenses for over three years. It does not include unported licenses, often used by those in countries that do not have country-specific licenses.

According to the project's World section, North America and Europe use CC licenses more than most regions in the world, with a few notable exceptions: Brazil, which has a sizable CC movement, and some parts of Asia.

Cheliotis is interested in the spread of CC licensing — who is using it and why, and how is it moving from person to person or organization to organization?

The CC Monitor project assigns a "freedom score" to each country based on the most frequently used type of CC license. CC licenses give users of licensed content different permissions. Some works can be used with no restrictions, while the use of others is constrained to non-commercial purposes or in cases where the resulting work is also CC-licensed.

CC Monitor assigns points to each license on a scale of 1 to 6, 6 being the most free (most permissive), then assigns an overall score based on these points. The global freedom score is 3.2. Some other scores:
One way that Cheliotis tracks content reuse is through CCMixter, which allows people to create remixes, samples and mashups of CC-licensed content. Cheliotis' analysis of this content has shown that with a few small exceptions, all of the content on CCMixter is interconnected. The maximum number of remixes he's found so far is 6, but the number of works per generation of reuse drops quickly — most remixes draw on original content, rather than a pre-existing remix. He also found a significant number of peer-to-peer relationships: "I remix content from you, you remix from me."

It's not yet possible to break down content by type (music, video, text, photography), nor is Cheliotis' project currently tracking content that's in the public domain (as opposed to strictly CC-licensed). These are both areas into which he would like to expand in the future.

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