By WAI MOE
Burma has one of slowest internet connections in the world for ordinary citizens but since March 21, Internet access has become even slower, seriously affecting businesses and the communications industry.
Myanmar Teleport, which manages the Internet, announced that Internet speed would slow on March 21-25 due to maintenance on a fiber optic cable. Then, Myanmar Teleport extended the slower service to April 1.
“Its impact is big inside Burma, especially on weekly journals, export-import companies and travel tour agencies,” said a Rangoon-based journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Weekly journals include the popular sports weeklies, which depend on the Internet for international coverage of events.
A bookstore owner said, “Journals which cover football are the worst. They can do nothing if the Internet is too slow.”
Some Internet observers were skeptical about the government’s claim of Internet maintenance, and said it could have something to do with government monitoring of Internet use.
“They [authorities] said they are working on a fiber optic cable, but that’s not possible because some sites can now be used and some can’t,” said a young Internet user in the city. “Now we can't use some proxy sites such as Gmail. They may be trying to prohibit the sites they don't like and scanning suspect e-mail.”
Internet speed in Burma is normally slow compared to neighboring countries, and Internet use is not widespread.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, there were 70,000 Burmese Internet users in 2007 and 108 internet hosts in 2008 while Thailand had 1.1 million Internet hosts in 2008 and 13.4 million Internet users in 2007.
The Burmese junta’s Internet firewall attempts to ban all exiled Burmese media, selected international media, all blogs, some scholarship Web sites and all proxy servers, say Internet users.
Notices are posted in Internet shops in Burma warning customers that accessing banned Web sites is against the law.
Since September 2007, the junta has viewed Internet users as a threat to military control of information, especially to the international community which learned of the junta’s brutal crackdown on demonstrators through reports from private citizens over the Internet.
Following the crackdown, parts of the Burmese Internet were shut down for two weeks.
“The regime ordered access providers to limit exchanges between the Burmese people and the rest of the world,” said the Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF). “The junta aimed to prevent the spread of video on sharing sites such as YouTube, Dailymotion and Flicker.”
Last year, the government sentenced two popular Burmese bloggers to long prison terms under an electronic communications act which bars certain types of communication that “threaten state security.”
Nay Phone Latt, a blogger, received a 20-year prison sentence in late 2008, and the well-known comedian and blogger Zaganar received a 59-year sentence.
Burma’s closest ally, China, has been criticized by media watchdog groups for its role in providing technologies to control the Internet in Burma.
“Burma, long home to one of Asia’s most repressive media environments, has also taken Internet censorship cues from China, its staunchest international ally,” said the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), saying Burmese security police received Internet censorship and surveillance training from Chinese experts.
The CPJ said the training includes monitoring online journalists and bloggers as well as launching cyber-attacks on exiled Web-site publications and groups.
The Information Warfare Monitor, a Canadian research group, claimed the weekend that an electronic Internet spy network, with servers based in China, had illegally accessed 1,295 computers in 103 countries, including foreign ministries and embassies as well as computers working on behalf of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.