At the time internet services were cut in Sudan as a first step before the bloody crackdown on the sit-in last week, the Economist magazine had a long, in-depth article about the growth of internet.
It pointed out that twelve years ago the number of people who were living in cities exceeded those in the rural areas for the first time in human history. That development took some 5, 000 years in the making. On the other hand the internet managed to cross that threshold in the 30 years since it became a public service and currently half of the planet’s population are online.
The second half of the population are preparing to join with some significant features. That most of the new comers are from the developing world, mainly India and Africa. Available figures show that 726 million people came online over the past three years alone. Socialization and friendly messaging are taking the bulk share of the internet activity, while business and self-improvement occupy second place.
As far as Sudan is concerned, available figures show that of the country’s estimated population of close 40 million around one third have internet access and some 30 million have mobile phones that can allow them access various social media platforms. And the figures are poised to grow.
No wonder that the Transitional Military Council (TMC) took the step of imposing the internet blackout because it is a powerful political tool that has been deployed effectively by the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) during its six months of anti-government demonstrations and sit-ins.
The Ingaz regime tried then to deny FFC this powerful tool, activists and users resorted to Virtual Personal Network (VPN) to overcome that barrier and get access to internet services.
This time and according to FFC’s telecommunication engineers, the military went to a more radical option, that is a complete cut off of internet by the official body, the National Telecommunication Corp (NTC), thus denying the VPN option. Moreover, NTC has the full control access through the two marine cable gateways belonging to the two telecommunication companies Sudatel and Kanar, who were operating under the supervision of TNC to ensure that vital services have internet access.
That leaves only two options to have internet access through either through Sudatel ADSL, which requires a fixed line, then have a service through a subscription, in addition to having a wireless router to get a signal. The other option is to use VSTA system through satellite and away from any government control, which is generally used by corporations and is expensive for individuals depending on the bandwidth.
This highlights the need to have an independent platform away from the government control. The open telecommunication space provides a golden opportunity to challenge autocrats, the military and dictatorships in various forms.
This one of the areas where FFC can deploy its human, professional and financial resources to carry out a detailed feasibility study on the best ways to have access to satellite internet, the cost to ensure having an independent platform independent from the government. The road to democracy is long and rocky and the march will have its ups and downs, which makes it paramount to establish an alternative and reduce the chances of any government with some dictatorial tendencies practicing its censorship.
Sudan represents a good chance for those interested in promoting democratic transformation, human rights to join hands and work on a project to provide satellite internet access for those aspiring for change and are willing to pay the human price. That may attract some support from NGOs or other world organizations, but the ultimate responsibility will and continue to be Sudanese.
Given the importance of the internet and its central role in communications and fueling the popular uprising, it is no wonder that it takes additional interest.
However, it could be taken as a show case for many other issues where FCC can tap on the support of many people at grassroots and those expatriates living abroad specially in western countries. That assets needs a more imaginative approach to utilize their resources, contacts and ability to contribute in the nation building and democratic transformation away from the narrow, traditional of simply levying taxes and fees.
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