Egypt's decision to turn off the Internet and cell phones in an effort to stop Egyptians from talking with each other and plotting against the government has put businesses in that country in a fix.
Variations on the same theme have taken place in other countries and are likely to happen again. And while maybe it is unlikely that this could happen in the United States, the situation in Egypt does prod us to think about what an Internet-free life would be like for U.S. businesses.
EGYPT ROUNDUP: Egypt muzzles last active ISP, but workarounds continue
It is not a given that the U.S. government would never try to shut down parts of all of the U.S. Internet. Legislation introduced last year by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) has been widely criticized for including an "Internet kill switch" which would give whichever administration happened to be in power the authority to pull the plug on chunks of the Internet in the name of national security.
I've looked at the bill and do not find a smoking gun that clearly provides that authority, but this is clearly not a bill written by a few congressional staffers sitting in a back room of the Senate Office Building. The bill contains more than 200 pages of detailed text, enabling all sorts of things -- in many ways a government wish list of powers.
But let's say that the U.S. government does not tell your ISP to stop accepting your traffic or tell your hosting provider to stop accepting traffic destined for your Web site. Let's say instead that your ISP or hosting company goes out of business or that there is an ice storm that takes down power and ISP lines and it takes two weeks to get it back up (as happened a while back in central Massachusetts). How well would your company fare under that sort of scenario?
No one could telecommute, no one at the office could use the 'Net to communicate with customers or suppliers, and your customers could not reach you to buy things or services (i.e., give you money). Going without the 'Net for a few days would not be good for many businesses and could be really bad for some.
It may not be all that likely that you will suffer a major outage, but you may want to take this opportunity to think about what level of outage you can actually take without it being a serious problem for the company. If you decide that being without Internet connectivity for more than a few hours would be a bad thing you should look into dual homing to a second ISP (although that will not help you if a fallen tree in front of your building takes down all the lines into the building). You can also look into having a redundant Web server at a backup hosting site.
Come to think of it, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a U.S. government administration could be tempted to disrupt communications within the country. It is not all that long ago that an unpopular war and the assassination of a major civil rights leader caused serious demonstrations all over the country, or that a jury's decision led to riots within a city. One of the natural inclinations of government, as shown in Egypt, is to assume things would be better if the people opposing the government cannot talk with each other. But I hope that the U.S. systems would not let any such temptations get turned into action.
Disclaimer: Harvard does multihome but has not expressed, at least in this context, an opinion on disrupting citizen communications. So the above observations are my own.
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This story, "How Long Would Your Business Last Without the Internet?" was originally published by Network World.