Egypt Blocks Internet Access – What That Would Do To Us

January 31st, 2011 by Search Influence Alumni

Starting last Thurday, Egypt “shut down Internet access to its 80 million citizens.” Possibly spurred by the Tunisian overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Al Ben Ali, the riots in Cairo, home to more than 16 million citizens, defied the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, head of state since 1981 and ruler for life since 2006, whose “government has for so long defied the mounting loathing felt for it by so many of its citizens.”

Mubarak is by no means an innocent leader, having recently fired his Cabinet and delivering a Nixon-esque speech apparently appealing to the legitimacy of the rioters’ concerns while remaining official in tone. This smattering of front-page articles runs the gamut of support for the regime to nearly revolutionary reports of “the people advanc[ing] as Mubarak starts his retreat.”

At 5:20 PM Eastern, Egypt completed the not-quite-unprecedented block on internet communications it started a few days earlier by blocking access to Facebook and Twitter. They killed the internet by forcing the Egyptian ISPs to withdraw over 3,500 Border Gateway Protocol routes — save for Noor Data Networks, the ISP for the Egyptian Stock Exchange. The Telegraph explains:

BGP routes are one of the most vital parts of the internet. They are mostly used by ISPs so their networks can exchange information about how to best route the packets of data that make up all internet communications.

If an ISP withdraws its BGP routes, its customers effectively disappear from the internet, unable to access websites and services, send and receive email, or use voice services such as Skype.

What makes this action more devastating to Egypt is that it’s a clear action against the majority of people in the country. President Mubarak is targeting the youths who are at the core of the drive for regime change: the median age of the country is 24, and the majority of the country is under 35—prime ages for pandemic Internet usage. Egypt tops the Arab world for number of Facebook subscribers at 5 million, approximately 16% of the total population.

Commentators are sighing a collective “Huh?” at the action. According to monitoring firm BGP’s “analysis, 88% of the ‘Egyptian Internet’ has fallen of the Internet.” To put this into a different perspective, let’s see what such a shutdown would do to US business.

Facebook access from Egypt has been blocked for 5 days — in America, this would block about 22,341,785 people from accessing the site over that time, stopping approximately 25% of $6 million a day spent on PPC advertising, totaling $7.5 million of potential loss to the company. Though it is hard to parse out what that would mean for the advertising company given different spend rates and acceptable cost-per-lead, the high value top companies give to their Facebook fans shows the potential for lost business, not to mention that Aunt Irma can’t see the latest baby pics and her Farmville crops will wither—which may be a much more dire situation. For the internet at large, if we assume that 88% of e-commerce is completely blocked for four days, we’d see $1.624 billion lost just in e-commerce sales alone.

To be clear: there is no way this would be allowed by industries if it were to happen here. ISPs are too independent to want to handle so many complaints and businesses would never forgive the financial losses come election day. It’ll never happen.

The actions by President Mubarak, removing a vox populi in order to stymie efforts against his increasingly overt dictatorship, may end up hurting him more than he thinks it’ll help. While certainly Egypt doesn’t have the internet economy of the US, with the coming of the work week, already Egypt is feeling the pinch.