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Egyptians go old-school to get around net ban

The Egyptian government has largely shut off Internet and mobile communications within the country in an effort to crack down on protesters, as well as blocking access to specific Internet services. However, activists are turning to old-school technology to disseminate information to each other as well as with the broader world—and fax machines, ham radio, and even dial-up modems are being pressed into service effectively.

So far, dial-up modems have proven to be an effective, albeit low-bandwidth means for Egyptians to get back online. Net activists such as Telecomix and We Re-Build have been distributing sizable lists of international numbers that offer modem service. Although browsing the Web with a dial-up modem is no fun these days, services like Twitter—with it’s 140-character limit—actually do very well in low-bandwidth environments, and Egyptians have been posting working dialup numbers to the service with hashtags. Several sites (such as the Manalaa blog and a widely-circulated document) offer advice on connecting to outside numbers and getting today’s technology to work with old-school systems. Outside of Egypt, ISPs and supporters have been putting banks of dialup modems back into service so they can accept international calls—in some cases ISPs have been setting up the services for free.

Mobile users have also been circumventing the Egyptian government’s shutdown of mobile services by distributing alternative message center numbers; as a result, some mobile users have been able to continue connecting to services like Twitter using their mobile devices. Others have reported that using third-party Twitter clients, rather than the Twitter Web site or official client, has enabled them to continue using the service.

At least one Egyptian ISP—Noor—seems to have remained online despite the Egyptian government’s shutdown, possibly because it provides connectivity for many large enterprises as well as Egypt’s stock exchange. Activists have been encouraging Noor users to remove passwords from any Wi-Fi routers they may operate to provide connectivity to nearby users.

[Image: TahsinTekin]