The second quarter of 2023 was a particularly busy one for Internet disruptions, and especially for government-directed Internet shutdowns.
In addition to the government-directed Internet shutdowns, Cloudflare also observed partial or complete outages due to severe weather, cable damage, power outages, general or unspecified technical problems, cyberattacks, military action, and infrastructure maintenance.
Internet shutdowns are unfortunately frequent in India, with digital rights organization Access Now reporting at least 84 shutdowns within the country in 2022. The shutdowns are generally implemented at a more local level and often last for a significant amount of time.
One such shutdown took place in the northeastern Indian state of Manipur starting on May 3 after the escalation of ethnic conflict, and was reportedly intended to “thwart the design and activities of anti-national and anti-social elements… by stopping the spread of disinformation and false rumors” and the likelihood of “serious disturbances to the entire peaceful coexistence of the communities and maintenance of public order”. Mobile data services were initially suspended for a five-day period, with the suspension continually extended through additional templated orders issued every five days.
The graphs below show the impact of the ordered shutdown to traffic from two major network providers in Manipur. Traffic from both AS45609 (Airtel) and AS9829 (BSNL) fell significantly around 18:00 local time (12:30 UTC) on May 4. Traffic on Airtel has remained low and continued to drop further through the end of June. Traffic on BSNL showed slight signs of recovery starting in early June but remains extremely low.
The shutdown order remains in place as of the time of this writing (late July).
An advisory posted on Twitter by Philippines telecommunications provider PLDT at 18:43 local time (10:43 UTC) on June 5 stated “One of our submarine cable partners confirms a loss in some of its internet bandwidth capacity, and thus causing slower Internet browsing. Cloudflare is working with our partners to provide alternate capacity that would restore the browsing experience in the next few hours.”
An advisory posted on Twitter by Philippines telecommunications provider PLDT at 18:43 local time (10:43 UTC) on June 5 stated “One of our submarine cable partners confirms a loss in some of its internet bandwidth capacity, and thus causing slower Internet browsing. Cloudflare is working with our partners to provide alternate capacity that would restore the browsing experience in the next few hours.” The traffic graph below shows a minor disruption to Internet traffic for AS9299 (PLDT) starting around 14:00 local time (06:00 UTC), and the “slower Internet browsing” noted by PLDT is evident in the Internet quality graphs below, with increased latency and decreased bandwidth evident around that same time. PLDT stated in a subsequent tweet that as of 06:22 local time on June 6 (22:22 UTC on June 5), “Our submarine cable partner confirms supplementing additional capacity, restoring browser experience.”
On May 9, Imran Khan, former Prime Minister of Pakistan was arrested on corruption charges. Following the arrest, violent protests erupted in several cities, leading the government of Pakistan to order the shutdown of mobile Internet services, as well as the blocking of several social media platforms. The figures below show the impact of the ordered shutdown to traffic on four mobile network providers within the country: AS24499 (Telenor Pakistan), AS59257 (China Mobile Pak), AS45669 (Mobilink/Jazz), and AS56167 (Ufone/PTML). The ordered shutdown caused a complete loss of Internet traffic from these networks that started at 22:00 local time (17:00 UTC) on May 9 at Telenor and China Mobile Pakistan, 18:00 local time (13:00 UTC) on Mobilink/Jazz, and 01:00 local time on May 10 (20:00 UTC on May 9) at Ufone/PTML. Traffic was restored at 22:00 local time (17:00 UTC) on May 12.
Looking at Cloudflare Radar’s recently launched Internet Quality page for Pakistan during the duration of the shutdown, the company observed that median latency within Pakistan dropped slightly after mobile networks were shut down, shown in the graph below. Prior to the shutdown, median latency (as observed to Cloudflare and a set of other providers) was in the 90-100ms range, while afterward, it averaged closer to 75ms. This may be a result of users shifting to lower latency fixed broadband connections – several fixed broadband providers in the country experienced increased traffic volumes while the mobile networks were unavailable.
Additional details about the mobile network shutdowns, content blocking, and the impact at an administrative unit and city level can be found in our May 12 blog post Cloudflare’s view of Internet disruptions in Pakistan.