|As the conflict in Syria continues unabated, we have observed an increase in the number of significant Internet outages in this war-torn country in the past six weeks. We first commented on the situation last year and again last month.
On Saturday, August 18th, the Syrian incumbent and sole domestic provider, Syria Telecommunications Establishment (STE, AS 29386), withdrew all 61 of its networks from the global routing table for roughly 17 minutes, starting at 07:59:00 UTC. Then again, on Sunday, August 19th, 20 of these networks were down several times between 04:00 UTC and 07:51:30 UTC. Sky News reporter, Tim Marshall, sent the tweet on the right from Syria at August 18th, 10:33 PST (or August 19th, 05:33 UTC).
|In addition to frequent and substantial outages, we have also observed a dramatic shift in the telecommunications operators providing service to Syria. Until a few days ago, the incumbent in neighboring Turkey, Turk Telecom (AS 9121), was a major provider to STE and thus to all of Syria. The illustration on the right displays a weighted view of STE routes to its international carriers over time. Turk Telecom disappeared briefly on August 3rd and then permanently on August 12th.
Meanwhile, Telecom Italia’s (AS 6762) portion of Syrian transit has dropped significantly, suggesting that they could be next to leave the country. With Turk Telecom’s departure and Telecom Italia fading, Hong Kong-based PCCW is currently carrying the lion’s share of Internet traffic into Syria through their Mediterranean assets.
|It is important to note that sanctions prevent US telecommunications firms from doing business in Syria, limiting STE’s choices (US carriers, Level 3 and Cogent, are major providers in neighboring Lebanon). Are other countries now simply following suit? Or are these changes the result of physical infrastructure damage? China, with strong economic ties to Syria, has imposed no such sanctions. Interestingly, with the diminishing role of western carriers, PCCW is left as a primary means for the Syrian people to document the ongoing conflict, such as via timely YouTube videos. Ultimately, telecommunications bans could prove counterproductive if they end up placing barriers to the free flow of information.|