Dubai: Sanctions and physical disruptions of internet have left Syrians dependent on Hong Kong-based company Pacific Century CyberWorks (PCCW) for free flow of information as other telecommunications companies are withdrawing due to sanctions.
China has not imposed sanctions on the Arab country and continues to build its economic relationship with the Bashar Al Assad regime.
The number of significant internet outages in Syria over the past six weeks or so has been increasing, with sole domestic provider Syria Telecommunications Establishment (STE) briefly withdrawing all 61 of its networks from the global routing table last Saturday.
“Over the past few days, the majority of Syria’s internet traffic has been routed through the Hong Kong-based telecom provider,” said Doug Madory , a research engineer at internet intelligence authority Renesys.
He said PCCW has shouldered the load as Turk Telecom, the main phone company in neighbouring Turkey, dropped away on August 12 as Turkey has protested Syria regime’s actions.
The Syrian government ultimately controls internet connection to the outside world but it’s a major route for rebel communications and news from the country as the civil war intensifies.
Renesys said that Telecom Italia of Italy and Deutsche Telekom of Germany also carry some Syrian internet traffic, but appear to be fading away.
Syria is connected via undersea cables to Cyprus, Lebanon and Egypt, and PCCW is a part-owner of some cables running through the Mediterranean Sea. But despite sanctions, some Syrian ISPs still maintain a presence in the US, with the largest hosting its homepage on a server in Chicago
In April, the Obama administration announced sanctions against Syriatel, the Syrian telecommunications company, for its role in “tracking and targeting citizens for violence.” Syriatel owns SAWA, Syria’s largest ISP. While that has prevented US telecommunications companies such as Cogent and Level 3 from doing business with SAWA, it hasn’t stopped the Syrian company from using some US Internet services.
PCCW now provides about 75 per cent of Syria’s international connectivity, with all “but a small fraction of the balance being provided by Deutsche Telekom, and India-based Tata,” Madory said.
The Internet has played a big role in the civilian uprisings in the Middle East over the past two years. The huge protests in Egypt, Tunisia and Iran were fueled to an extent by social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook.
“When there’s a big outage we see routes to different networks being withdrawn from the global routing table,” which is what has been happening in Syria for the past several weeks.