Burma’s main internet provider remains down a week after reports first emerged of a faulty connection and only six days before controversial elections.
Authorities have yet to make any announcement about the problem. The Rangoon-based Weekly Eleven journal said that services dealing with “healthcare, hotel, airline and media as well as IT companies and private hospitals using internet are mostly being affected”.
A number of internet cafes have subsequently closed, and critics of the Burmese generals are pointing the finger at the ruling junta, which on 7 November will hold the country’s first elections in 20 years.
The generals have already banned foreign journalists and election observers, and are suspected to have been behind a wave of aggressive cyber attacks last month that crippled exiled news websites.
“I’m not surprised to hear that the internet is grinding to a halt,” David Mathieson, Burma researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch, told AP. “It’s a slow squeeze. They’re slowing everything right down so the potential for negative information to come out is greatly reduced.”
Some rumours are circulating Rangoon that it was an external attack aimed at thwarting the elections, although this has not been substantiated. The hampering has affected access to foreign news websites and email accounts.
Only around 0.2 percent of the Burmese population have regular access to the web, making it one of the lowest countries for internet penetration in the world. Burma had 218 internet providers as of 2008, ranking it 196 out of 232 global countries in terms of numbers of providers. Telephone usage is also low, at around 4 percent of the population.
Websites such as DVB that are deemed unsavoury by the Burmese government are only accessible through proxy servers. The junta is known to cut internet connection during politically sensitive times, as it did during the September 2007 monk-led uprising.