Internet disruptions in Libya

September 21, 2011 - Digital State Marketing

Recent news reports have described Libya as a “war zone” amid the chaos which has hit the North African country. This has caused enormous disruptions to Libya’s internet links as inbound and outbound traffic has decreased to a fraction of what is usually seen. A trend has formed, and the traffic seems to suggest a “curfew” pattern as possibly more restrictions have been imposed during the evenings. YouTube is now almost entirely unreachable and Facebook has been blocked.

The figures released from Craig Labovitz, Chief Scientist of Arbor Networks, shows that Internet traffic volumes are 60 to 80 percent below normal levels. This outrage is similar to that of Egypt a few weeks earlier. However, Libya did regain partial service during the morning after a complete crash in traffic on Friday, only to then be cut off around 2pm.

It is still not clear as to whether these disruptions are intentional or caused by other factors such as power outages according to Jim Cowie, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer of Internet Intelligence firm Renesys. According to a CNN correspondent in Eastern Libya the power was up but the Internet was down.

Cowie has stated that “The outages have lasted hours, and then service has resumed. All of that is consistent with alternative explanations, such as power problems or some other kind of single-operator engineering issue.”

During Egypt’s disruptions, the Internet problems were easier to identify due to the large number of broadband providers, as all of them became inoperative simultaneously. However in Libya there appears to be only one with connections to the rest of the world which is Libya Telecom and Technology which is state-owned and has close ties with Gadhafi.

The Egyptian networks activity is what gave a fairly explicit signal that it was a political event. The Egyptian networks “were withdrawn within the same 20 minute window and stayed down for days,” Cowie said. “Traffic flowing through Egypt to other destinations in the Middle East was utterly unaffected.”

Google’s Transparency Report and Akamai Technologies reports reflect the hiccups in Libya. The data depicts daily rises and dips in normal internet traffic. Traffic seems in to rising but at far lower levels than a week before.

The Transparency Report has also revealed decreasing YouTube traffic volumes, which have fallen down as much as 90 percent.

According to Arbor’s Labovitz, instant messaging and web browsing traffic has dropped more quickly than other types.

Recent disorder in Libya has lead to a growth in off limits websites. In the past Libya’s government has engaged in modest internet filtering. The AFP news service reported that Facebook has been blocked and Al Jazeera’s website is now off limits. Facebook is believed to have been blocked since Gadhafi’s warning not to use Facebook as activists have created groups calling for reform.