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Hong Kong, not China keeping Syria online

PCCW carries lion's share of traffic to war-torn land

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Hong Kong telecoms giant PCCW (sometimes known as Pacific Century CyberWorks) is all-but-single-handedly keeping Syria online as US sanctions and probable infrastructure issues hit the war-torn country.

The number of significant internet outages in Syria over the past six weeks or so has been increasing, with sole domestic provider Syria Telecommunications Establishment (STE) briefly withdrawing all 61 of its networks from the global routing table last Saturday, according to internet tracking firm Renysys.

Doug Madory, a research engineer with the firm, explained that the number of telecoms operators providing service to Syria has also taken a sudden hit.

“Until a few days ago, the incumbent in neighbouring Turkey, Turk Telecom, was a major provider to STE and thus to all of Syria … Turk Telecom disappeared briefly on August 3rd and then permanently on August 12th,” he wrote.

“Meanwhile, Telecom Italia's portion of Syrian transit has dropped significantly, suggesting that they could be next to leave the country.”

With these two out of the picture, it is Hong Kong’s PCCW which has been left “carrying the lion's share of Internet traffic into Syria through their Mediterranean assets”, Madory claimed.

Sanctions prevent US telecoms players from getting involved, although Madory couldn’t reveal whether the likes of Telecom Italia and Turk Telecom are following suit or have been taken offline by infrastructure damage.

Some news sources have been quick to jump on the apparent irony of China – a nation which famously regulates and censors content delivered to its citizens – now being responsible for the free flow of information throughout Syria.

However, it must be remembered that Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China, operating with a high degree of autonomy from the mainland under the “one country, two systems” plan set out by former Communist Party leader Deng Xiaoping.

In effect, this means Hong Kong is free of internet censorship, largely autonomous in political and economic matters and affords human rights protections and press freedoms those in mainland China can only dream of.

The Reg contacted PCCW from comment on the news but was still waiting at the time of writing.

In any case, it remains a difficult quandary for telecoms operators to face when dealing with repressive states such as Syria.

Cutting the country’s internet supply would no doubt disrupt rebel fighters just as much if not more than it would loyalist forces - in fact, Gaddafi and Mubarak both tried this tactic in their own desperate attempts to cling on to power. ®

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