Prolonged internet disruption proved costly

July 21, 2017
by Mark Ollig

A total loss of internet access was recently experienced by people living in Somalia.

An undersea fiber-optic cable providing them with internet service was severed.

The internet interruption was determined to be caused by a commercial container ship while docking in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital city.

The ship’s anchor caught and sliced through the internet fiber-optic cable; instantly disconnecting service to some 6.5 million people living in southwestern Somalia.

Users affected by the cut cable endured 23 days without the internet.

Inaccessibility to the internet and its social media networks for this length of time was not only frustrating for citizens, teachers, journalists, and students; it was a large monetary loss to the country’s business and local economies, as well.

For each day without the internet, Somalia’s economy lost an estimated $10 million in revenue.

No doubt, much angst was felt by everyone affected during the sudden deprivation of the internet.

Computers located in science classrooms at the University of Somalia were not being used; one Reuters news agency photo showed empty chairs in front of rows of computers sitting on desks.

Substantial portions of our own country’s economic revenues have been generated from the internet during the last 20 years.

Loss of the internet in this country is almost too unimaginable to contemplate.

No more online access to our local and federal government services, healthcare providers, and financial institutions, for starters.

No more internet social media or ordering from Amazon, eBay, and other online businesses.

Content providers and others relying on an internet connection to obtain information for their work, research, stories, news, and columns would have to revert back to older methods.

We’ve become used to learning about breaking news the instant it happens, and then having real-time public conversations about it online over the internet’s social media.

During the 1980s and early ‘90s, before websites began appearing on the internet, many computer hobbyists used their personal computer for operating an online BBS (bulletin board system).

BBSes used modems, analog telephone lines, and popular software, such as Mustang, Renegade, and one I used on my BBS, “WBBS Online!,” called The Major BBS, by Galacticomm.

Users connected their computer’s modem to an analog telephone line and dialed a specific telephone number to connect with a business or hobbyist BBS, using communication software such as ProComm Plus, Kermit, QModem, PC-Talk, and others.

Sometimes, a user needed to download and execute client software on their computer in order to interact with the graphical user interface environment a particular BBS software had.

Back in the day, AOL, CompuServe, and Prodigy commercial dialup online services provided a disk containing the client software we installed on our computer.

I recall, during the 1980s, a major telephone vending supply company in Minneapolis installed a BBS listing their inventory database for telephone companies to place orders from.

Local television and newspapers installed their own BBSes for enticing users to dial in and be part of their online community – and hopefully watch their television channel, read their newspapers, and patronize the product placement ads.

Some dialup BBSes were strictly for gaming; generating revenue for their owners by using 1+900/976 telephone numbers.

BBSes were used by local city governments as a means of connecting online with its citizens.

By the early 1990s, with the introduction of the World Wide Web, businesses and city governments began to move their online presence from a dialup BBS to a website on the internet.

Having their website maintained through a third party or internet service provider eliminated BBS hardware, personal time coding the website, dedicated telephone lines, and software costs.

Many of us remember how CB radios became less popular with the public, once cellular telephones arrived on the scene.

Hormuud Telecom, Somalia’s leading internet service provider, reported July 17 the damaged undersea fiber-optic cable was repaired, and internet service was restored.

Somalian citizens immediately took to social media and expressed their joy.

“You cannot imagine how happy I am today. The internet is back and I can browse to read and publish all my delayed posts on Facebook,” said one Somalia university student.

“Finally, Internet Service is back in Mogadishu #Somalia,” posted @LibanAbdili on Twitter.

“Internet Somalia repair successful to back the people using the social media,” read another tweet by @alim_mahamoud.

Twitter user, @Suheyfa posted a photo of someone using a laptop computer while holding a smartphone and said, “Internet service is back finally in #Mogadishu. #Somalia.”

So, how would we react if for some reason the internet was turned off; its websites, online services, and social media networks no longer available?

First thing I would do is get my old BBS out of mothballs, and reunite the local online virtual community.

I’d also install a CB radio in my car and announce to the on-air world, “The Green Hornet is back!”

Cue Jerry Reed’s 1977 “Smokey and the Bandit” song, “East Bound and Down.”

Breaker 1-9, follow me on Twitter at @bitsandbytes. That’s a big 10-4.

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