As I reviewed the news of the last few days I couldn't help but think about how, in this day and age, an open and free society must have free or affordable Internet access. With social media, blogs, and international news outlets, and even static websites no country can truly be a member of the global community without allowing its citizens to explore the thoughts, sights and sounds of various cultures. And, those governments that don't allow this are doomed to perish.
Recent events showed that even with the shutting down of ISPs (Internet Service Providers) in Egypt the protests didn't stop. People still saw media reporters who they knew would get the story and video out to their international networks. Those who were creative and technologically savvy found a way to use satellite phones or good old dial up modems connected through international numbers set up specifically to help them.
And, with the President of Yemen doing a “Mubarak” by saying that he wasn't planning to run for President again but isn't leaving just quite yet, we have a potentially dangerous situation in countries that could disrupt the flow of oil. Egypt with it's control of the Suez canal and Yemen with its control of the Straights of Hormuz pose bottlenecks of military interventionist proportions.
So I started to look at Yemen with in the same light as Egypt. If the government shut down the Internet and mobile communications what could happen.
The first thing that became apparent was that in Yemen the amount of people using the Internet is approx. 1% of the population. So cutting off the Internet in Yemen would be a rather insignificant event for most of its citizens. If they also cut off satellite phone communications perhaps an equal number would be affected. In reality, the problem for the government, regarding the Internet in Yemen, is not how to shut it off but how to maintain the low level of usage.
Currently there are only 3 ISPs in Yemen, Y.net-Tele Temen, IT Yemen and T2 Satellite Services, all of which work via dial-up. According to a Somali news outlet some phones that can get Internet connections are banned from use in Yemen. So, even if some VSAT (broadband two-way satellite transfer system) phones are available for use, they are expensive, somewhat unreliable for bandwidth intensive applications (video, etc.), and expensive.
Further investigation revealed that here is a Yemen Cisco Academy teaching Cisco CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certifications. In order to adequately teach these courses it would be necessary to have new Cisco network equipment or used Cisco equipment to establish a computer network lab for practice and testing. So, my guess is that from a government and probably academic viewpoint there is a move is being made to become better educated about routers, switches, firewalls and wireless network equipment. Now, to be fair, The Ministry of Communication has recently revealed new plans aiming at the development of the internet services in Yemen, as well as the establishment of the ‘Gateway' project. Sources at the Ministry said the project would be the first step in the establishment of the e-government in Yemen through using up-to-date information technology, newest ideas, standards, techniques, styles and establishing data processing network. Yet, no one seems to know if the introduction of more modern network equipment and systems in Yemen will have a penetrating effect on the general population.
Even with these attempts to develop an Internet presence in Yemen my impression (unscientific, uncorroborated) is that shutting down the Internet in Yemen would not be as big a factor as it was in Egypt. And, that events in this poor yet strategically significant country will not be hindered by any disruption of Internet service.