By LAWI WENG
Myanmar Teleport, Burma’s state-owned Internet service provider, will resume normal service on April 3, after weeks of exceptionally slow connection speeds that it blamed on repair work to its wi-fi cables, according to a spokesperson for the company.
The spokesperson, who asked not to be identified, told The Irrawaddy today that Myanmar Teleport was still fixing the cables. “This is why Internet connections often fail and why it has been difficult to send e-mail. But it will get better soon.”
Myanmar Teleport initially said that repair work would be finished on March 25, but now says it will not be completed until at least April 3 due to unforeseen difficulties.
Internet users in Rangoon have reported frequent interruptions in Internet service since March 21. One regular user said that he often had to wake up at 2 a.m. to use his broadband connection, because speeds at other times were too slow even to send email.
The two-week disruption of service is taking a toll on businesses, with travel agencies, import-export companies and weekly journals, which rely on the Internet for the latest sports scores and other information, all reporting a negative impact from the slowdown.
Many users also suspect that the sudden deterioration of service stems from government interference, rather than technical problems. They say that monitoring of the Internet by the country’s ruling junta could be the reason the Internet is much slower than usual.
The media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders, has described the Burmese regime as “among the very worst enemies of Internet freedom” for its relentless efforts to block access to critical Web sites and log the online activities of users, most of whom use Internet cafes that operate under strict government controls.
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.
Internet service in Burma officially became available in 2000, but it was only several years later that it was popularized to some extent by the appearance of Internet cafes in major cities.
In September 2007, the Internet played a vital role in transmitting images of a violent crackdown on monk-led protests to the outside world, prompting the regime to shut down all Internet access for several days.
Since then, the junta has increased its vigilance of online activities. Last year, two popular Burmese bloggers received long prison sentences for violating a law targeting any form of communication that “threatens state security.”
Nay Phone Latt, a well-known blogger, received a 20-year sentence in late 2008, while Zaganar, a popular comedian who used his personal blog to criticize the regime’s response to Cyclone Nargis last May, was sentenced to 59 years in prison.
The junta continues to take extreme precautions against online subversion, despite the fact that Burma is among the world’s least connected nations.
According to the CIA World Fact Book, there were 70,000 Burmese Internet users in 2007 and 108 internet hosts in 2008, while neighboring Thailand had 13.4 million Internet users in 2007 and 1.1 million Internet hosts in 2008.