As reported widely by the blogger community and to some extent in the Pakistan media, PTCL yet again made a blunder of blocking a group of sites. In a way I am glad that this issue happened – perhaps now it will get some attention from the decision makers and some positive resolution may come out of this. I will quote most of the material here from a post at Pakistaniat.com by Adil Najam:

Censorship is never a good idea. When mixed with over-zealousness it becomes dangerous. And when combined with technical incompetence, it becomes costly.

This is what happened when the self-styled defenders of the nation’s morals, ideology and integrity began messing a little too much with things they should never have messed with in the first place. The result was that for a period of four days, major websites and email services – including google.com, download.com, Microsoft.com, gmail.com, yahoo.com, BBC, CNN, Systematic, Akamai, PC World, MTV, Best Buy, Logitech, ESPN and many others – remained blocked in Pakistan.

The post references a recent report in The News:

In trying to abide by the Supreme Court order of filtering certain websites containing blasphemous content “at all costs”, the PTCL blocked access to thousands of vital websites and email servers on February 28. The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) had passed on the same orders to the PTCL for action and denial of access to such derogatory websites. While the PTA directions are binding for a service provider, the implementation details are left to the management of PTCL, who went for an overkill by blindly blocking the Internet Protocol addresses en bloc instead of filtering the content on questionable websites.

For the past four days, the whole system had collapsed and owing to the routing and blocking flaws resulted in sporadic and random outage of the key websites. Simple websites which are not on the Akmai (and other domains mentioned) also remain affected. According to some observers, the whole system crawled to perhaps 30 per cent to 40 per cent of capacity. Sources said, “Since the PTCL did not have a proper anomaly detection system in place and their technical people were not empowered appropriately to inform the chain of command, the disaster-like situation could have been averted.”

The News report adds: The affected websites included google.com, download.com, Microsoft.com, gmail.com, yahoo.com, BBC, CNN, Systematic, Akamai, PC World, MTV, Best Buy, Logitech, ESPN amongst hundreds of thousands other. Over the past four days, emails of Internet-users through web-based servers remained blocked which had been disappearing in the cyberspace. The mid-level PTCL techies have been brushing the issue under the carpet and sleeping over it. “Whenever a complaint is lodged, the PTCL officials are found in a denial mode,” said a top IT professional, working at the Software Technology Park II. In his emails to the industry, a PTCL official has been denying receiving any complaint about delay or packet drop received from other customers. The same PTCL official, in his mass email, admitted, “Some of AKAMAI server Internet Protocols (IPs) got blocked as a consequence of directives to block obnoxious/objectives. This may be the cause of slow browsing because single website links are hosted on different IPs.”

The News report goes on to say that “The News learnt from an assortment of leading Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and other IT-dependent businesses that such companies have suffered 20 to 30 per cent revenue loss over the past five days. The ISPs have been the worst hit as the outage of websites was directly proportionate to the use of Internet, thus slashing their businesses.”

This is a continuation of the blog ban which apparently did not cause enough uproar. I would encourage all to use all channels available to complain to PTA and PTCL for this.  I hope that with this new episode some one in the power circles will make the right call and get the right solution implemented.

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