TOKYO — The Egyptian government’s five-day block of Internet services cost the national economy at least US$90 million, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said Thursday.
The Paris-based organization said telecommunications and Internet services account for between 3 per cent and 4 per cent of Egypt’s GDP, so the daily loss amounted to around US$18 million.
The Internet block was lifted on Wednesday, but it might be much longer before the true cost of the government’s action on the economy is known.
By cutting telecommunications links, the government severed links between domestic and international high-tech firms and the rest of the world. As a result, the OECD warned, Egypt could find it “much more difficult in the future to attract foreign companies and assure them that the networks will remain reliable.”
Egypt’s major Internet service providers stopped routing traffic just after midnight local time on Friday as protests against the rule of President Hosni Mubarak gathered momentum in Cairo.
In minutes the amount of Internet traffic flowing between Egypt and the rest of the world was reduced to a trickle, according to monitoring by Massachusetts-based Arbor Networks.
“We have never seen a country as connected as Egypt completely lose Internet connectivity for such an extended period,” said Craig Labovitz, chief scientist at Arbor Networks, on the company’s security blog.
“Unlike periods as recent as a decade ago, governments of technically developed countries cannot disrupt telecommunication without incurring significant economic cost and social / political pressures,” he said.
“It was pretty much similar, except reversed, to what happened last week ,” said Vancouver’s Andree Toonk, the founder and lead developer of BGPmon, an open-source tool for monitoring BGP, or “border gateway protocol.” BGP is the protocol at the heart of the Internet’s routing mechanism, and is used by routers to share information about the paths data traffic uses to “hop” from one network to another as it moves from a source to its destination.
The speed with which the networks reconnected was evidence that rather than physically plugging in cables, Egypt’s ISPs simply began advertising their availability to other networks’ routers using BGP, said Toonk.
“That, and the fact that it all happened at the same time shows the disconnect was probably not physical,” said Toonk. Nor was the restoration today. “Everything was restored in about half an hour,” he said.
According to Toonk’s monitoring, the first BGP announcements for Egypt began at 9:30 a.m. UTC, or 11:30 a.m. local time. The start time Toonk cited was 4:30 a.m. ET and 1:30 a.m. PT in the U.S.
Internet monitoring company Renesys also pegged the reconnect time for the bulk of Egypt’s networks at around 30 minutes.
Others said it took longer than that. “It wasn’t quite as abrupt as last week,” Labovitz told Computerworld. “It took from a half hour to an hour.”
The quick restoration of service also meant that the Egyptian government had likely ordered the digital blockage lifted, said Toonk, just as it forced ISPs to go offline last week.
Some ISPs and sites remained accessible outside Egypt during the five-day outage, said both Toonk and Labovitz, who were wary of assigning a reason for their survival when most of the country went dark. “There were a few percent of Egypt’s ISPs, maybe four to five percent, that were left online,” said Toonk. “Why they remained online, I don’t know.”