The Egyptian government shut down access to the Internet early Friday morning, affecting about 88 percent of the country's online networks. While blackouts of selected sites such as YouTube, Facebook, and Google are common in countries with autocratic and totalitarian governments, this appears to be the first time a government tried to shut down all Internet access.
Internet monitoring firm Rensys was first to notice the digital blackout a little after midnight Friday Egypt time. The network shutdown appears to affect Egypt's four major ISP providers, including Link Egypt, Vodafone/Raya, Telecom Egypt, and Etisalat Misr. Rensys called Egypt's near-total Internet blackout "an action unprecedented in Internet history."
Vodafone has issued a statement about Internet service in Egypt saying, "All mobile operators in Egypt have been instructed to suspend services in selected areas. Under Egyptian legislation the authorities have the right to issue such an order and we are obliged to comply with it. The Egyptian authorities will be clarifying the situation in due course."
It's not clear why the Egyptian government decided to cut off Internet service, but presumably it was done to stifle communication among people who have taken to the streets demanding the end of President Hosni Mubarak's regime. The recent revolution in Tunisia that led to the ouster of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was credited at least in part to Tunisia's Net-savvy youth who traded information about protests, riots, and the police's response on Facebook and Twitter. Egypt's government may have hoped to avoid mass protests by cutting off access to the Internet, but it appears taking most of the country offline has only inflamed government opposition.
Even though Internet access in Egypt is blacked out, you can still find a fair amount of live information about the protests online. Here are five ways to still find out what's going on in Egypt from people who are close to the action:
Live Video Stream
Al Jazeera English has a live video stream showing the latest video shots and still images from protests that are rocking the North African country.
The Guardian has a live blog about events in Egypt and around the Middle East.
Associated Press reporter Diaa Hadid (@diaahadid) has been able to send out tweets on a limited basis from Cairo. It's not clear how she's able to do this or how long this access will last. A recent tweet: "Can see teargas plumes and police charging from AP office. Protesters fighting back."
CNN's Ben Wedeman, (@bencnn) based in Cairo, also appears to be able to get the word out via Twitter. Recent tweet: "Tear gas being fired on protesters under 6 October Bridge on Corniche Al-Nil."
Jan 25 Voice (@Jan25Voices) claims to be talking to people on the phone inside Egypt and then relaying those eyewitness reports via Twitter. January 25 refers to the first days of protests in Egypt, and has now become a Twitter hashtag to report on news coming out of that country. You can follow the Jan25 hashtag here. Recent tweet: "So far today? Attacks on protesters, press. Internet, cell phone service cut. Nobel laureate arrested. And day still young."