Doubts surface over announced Internet maintenance in Burma

By: sw on 24 March 2009
Posted in Burma, Asia

Since March 22, 2009, Internet speeds in Burma have been slowed significantly. Myanmar Teleport (MMT) had announced that the submarine cable SE-ME-WE 3 (South East Asia Middle West Europe 3) will be undergoing maintenance from March 21 to March 25, 2009, but that email service would be maintained. Burma’s other state-controlled ISP, Myanmar Post & Telecommunications (MPT) has not announced any slowdown in Internet access speeds. However, according to Internet users in Burma, both MMT and MPT shut down their service for several hours on the afternoon of March 22.

Some sources in Burma doubt the slowdown is really the result of scheduled maintenance and provided two possible alternative explanations. First, reported extensions in landline fiber-optics connections with neighboring countries including China, Thailand, and India add up to more total bandwidth than the SE-ME-WE 3 backbone, and would provide faster connections to Internet subscribers. Second, this may be an attempt to exert greater control over Internet access among the governmental, public, and military sectors. Users are not allowed to download binary files, are presented with the maintenance notification page (equipped with Bluecoat appliances in the Web Gateway and WAN optimization) in the first session of any browser, and are required to click through it in order to continue on to any website. Attempts to use popular circumvention methods as our-freedom, freegate, JAP and Ultrasurf were unsuccessful.

In the meantime, the announced network maintenance has resulted in user frustration with delays in accessing popular online services, including GMail, GTalk, Skype, Pfingo and VZOChat. Many cybercafés were closed and waiting for the resumption of normal Internet access speeds. Users who can’t access free email, instant messaging or media sites are worried about surveillance during this period and predicting enhanced online monitoring to come.