Disappearing the Internet

Ezra Klein takes a look at how difficult it would be for the government to shut off the Internet in various countries, as the nation of Syria just did on Thursday:

There are 61 nations, including Syria and Libya and even Greenland, where there are only one or two providers connecting people to the outside world. “Under those circumstances,” Cowie writes, “it’s almost trivial for a government to issue an order that would take down the Internet. Make a few phone calls, or turn off power in a couple of central facilities, and you’ve (legally) disconnected the domestic Internet from the global Internet.”

But countries with a more diversified Internet infrastructure are harder to cut off. It took Hosni Mubarak’s government a few days to shut down Egypt’s Internet. And a blackout is even harder to pull off in countries like Mexico and India. (It’s interesting to see that China is ranked as a “low risk” countries. As James Fallowsreported a few years ago, the Chinese government was able to set up its “Great Firewall” to censor the Internet in part because most of the country’s access runs through fiber-optic cables at just three points.)

Meanwhile, it would be nearly impossible for a government to shut down the entire Internet in the United States or Western Europe. “There are just too many paths into and out of the country,” Cowie writes, “too many independent providers who would have to be coerced or damaged, to make a rapid countrywide shutdown plausible to execute.”

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