June 3, 2011 at 1:35 PM ET
Syria's government appears to have shut down much of the Internet as protests and violence escalate there against President Bashar Assad's regime. As with many other Middle Eastern countries in recent months, Syrian activists and demonstrators have relied on the Web to get information out about what's happening there to sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.
The sites have become crucial means of communication in recent days and weeks, especially with the Syrian government attempting to ban most international media from reporting inside the country.
Internet monitoring firm Renesys says that, "starting at 3:35 UTC today (6:35am local time)," Friday, "approximately two-thirds of all Syrian networks became unreachable from the global Internet. Over the course of roughly half an hour, the routes to 40 of 59 networks were withdrawn from the global routing table."
Syria has one Internet provider: the state-owned SyriaTel. Renesys notes that the websites that are "reachable include those belonging to the Syrian government, although many government websites are slow to respond or down. The Oil Ministry is up, for example, and Syrian Telecom's official page, but the Ministry of Education is down, as is the Damascus city government page, and the Syrian Customs website."
Meanwhile, Al-Jazeera says on its Syria blog that "a government-sponsored website has confirmed that internet has been disconnected across the country: 'The Syrian government has cut off internet service (3G, DSL, Dial-up) all across Syria, including in government institutions.' "
Many activists, Reuters reported, "found alternate ways to log on and upload videos, such as satellite connections." Among the videos that "surfaced earlier this week," those tied to the death of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khatib, whose tortured and mutilated body was returned to his family by the Syrian government.
Between 3.5 million and 4 million Syrians, out of a population of nearly 22 million, have Internet access — or did until Friday.
"We don't know yet how the outage was coordinated, or what specific regions or cities may be affected more than others," Renesys said. "News is filtering out of Syria very slowly. If Egypt and Libya's (previous) Internet outages are any guide, one might conclude that events on the street in Syria are reaching a tipping point."