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As Revolution Unfolds in Libya, Tripoli Returns to the Internet

BY Nick Judd | Monday, August 22 2011

As forces rebelling against the regime of Libyan ruler Muammar Gaddafi moved to gain control of the capital city of Tripoli yesterday, something strange happened: Tripoli's citizens could, suddenly, talk about it again with the outside world.

Folks like the British-Kurdish writer Ruwayda Mustafah and NPR's curator-in-chief Andy Carvin began to notice their old contacts — people in Tripoli like @TrablesVoice — speaking up on Twitter for the first time since an Internet crackdown in that country began in March. Google's rolling tally of its own incoming Internet traffic shows a sudden jump in traffic coming from Libya, even when compared to increased traffic since July.

It seems that as forces opposed to the Gaddafi regime attempt to take control of Tripoli and Libya as a whole, one of the battles being waged is over country's Internet communications and media infrastructure.

"Did you miss me?" @TrablesVoice said last night on Twitter, his first post to the social service since March 3. "I'm glad that i managed to survive this! I missed you all."

On the corporate blog for Renesys, a company that tracks the status of Internet connections worldwide, company Chief Technology Officer James Cowie noted that the shape of what you might call the Libyan Internet has been changing over the past few weeks, and Libya's state-run telecommunications company has been giving mixed messages.

Remember that the Internet is often called a "network of networks?" Well, at least until a few days ago, the Libyan state had almost complete control over which computers inside Libya could connect to computers outside the country. Libya Telecom and Technology, the state-run telecom, offered up a long list of Internet addresses where the outside world could turn to if they were looking to pass Internet traffic back and forth with computers in Libya — although by most accounts they have not been offering Internet access for regular folks since March. Per Cowie, though, most of those addresses failed in recent weeks, and failed again on Saturday. Then, on Sunday morning, Cowie wrote that it appeared that those addresses were working again — but based on traffic volume, local Internet was down. He speculates:

Did the brief Tripoli Internet flicker represent a sign of conflict within the phone company itself, with someone struggling to reactivate service at the neighborhood level, only to have it switched off again at the national level? Or was the overnight routing failure just another in a sequence of (probably power-related) outages for LTT's outlier networks? The people without Internet access in Libya have a lot of questions at this point, and we don't have enough data yet to give them a satisfactory answer.

LTT's website has been changing, too. It was down for days, per Cowie, only to reappear yesterday, he writes.

"LTT website (http://ltt.ly) is back online, and the Arabic crawl at the bottom says 'Congratulations, Libya, on emancipation from the rule of the tyrant,'" he wrote yesterday.

Now, that crawl has been replaced with one that reads "Libya, one tribe," according to Google Translate.

The chairman of LTT was Mohamed Gaddafi, the ruler's son. Today, opposition forces told Al-Jazeera that he was in their custody.

Libyan opposition forces told Reuters today that they also seized control of state television. Via Andy Carvin, Britain's Channel 4 News correspondent Jonathan Rugman reports that his channel's feed of Libyan state television went down today.

Update — showing my work: It might not be immediately clear from the above how I'm taking Renesys' analysis and Tripoli tweeters' return to the Internet and putting them together to mean that access is back on in Tripoli even now. People inside Tripoli are reporting via Twitter that their Internet is back up. As recently as a few hours ago, @TrablesVoice explained that he was using ADSL, a landline connection — but that power outages were forcing him to rely on a backup battery to keep it powered. Another anti-Gaddafi Twitter user inside Tripoli, @Tripoli_Latest — an account which revealed over the weekend that it belonged to a Tripoli-based activist group — reported over the weekend that Internet access had been restored, and more recently that the mobile network was still carrying calls. Both Internet and mobile service were disrupted in Libya.

This post has been updated.