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Cablegate: Internet Slowly Developing in Burma

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RR RUEHBZ RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHGO #0718/01 2201105
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 081105Z AUG 07
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6312
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 1473
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 0403
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 4573
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 1970
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 3943
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 7497
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 0634
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 5051
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 1159
RUDKIA/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 1027
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0022
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 3203
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 0849
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 RANGOON 000718

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS; EB/CIP/BA
PACOM FOR FPA
TREASURY FOR OSIA:SCHUN

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: ECON ECPS PGOV BM
SUBJECT: INTERNET SLOWLY DEVELOPING IN BURMA


RANGOON 00000718 001.2 OF 003


Sensitive but Unclassified, please handle accordingly. Not for
Internet Distribution.

1. (SBU) Summary. Despite the GOB's continued efforts to limit
access to the outside world via the internet, the Burmese are
creatively finding ways to circumvent regime bans. Users,
particularly the younger generation, employ proxy servers or web
tunnel programs to access block programs, such as free email
providers, chat rooms, and VOIP. Internet access is widely
available in large cities, and entrepreneurial Burmese are expanding
access to rural areas with new cyber cafes. Despite prohibitive
internet costs, internet use in the past seven years has increased
1500 percent, from 2,000 users in 2000 to more than 300,000 today.
Although the GOB plans to increase internet penetration throughout
the country from 0.3 to 0.5 percent by the end of 2007 by granting
licenses for new cyber cafes, their efforts to obstruct access to
sensitive websites will likely continue. End Summary.

Internet Connectivity on the Rise
---------------------------------

2. (SBU) Despite efforts by the GOB to limit access to
international news and other websites, internet services are readily
available in Burma. Burma has two national internet service
providers (ISPs), one run by the Ministry of Post and
Telecommunications (MPT) and the other controlled by semi-private
Myanmar Teleport. Myanmar Teleport was previously known as Bagan
Cybertech, which was owned by former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt's
son. After Khin Nyunt was ousted in 2004, the company was sold and
renamed. Burmese internet users have five ways to connect to the
internet: dial-up, three types of broadband connections (ADSL,
IPSTAR and wireless local loop) and VSAT (Very Small Aperture
Terminal) satellite.

3. (SBU) The MPT records list approximately 40,000 internet
subscribers throughout the country, although officials estimate that
each subscription services an average of eight people. According to
unpublished official figures, internet penetration is estimated at
0.3 percent. MPT reports that internet use has increased 1500
percent since 2000, from 2,000 to more than 300,000 users. Even so,
Burma still has one of the world's lowest per capita rates of
internet use.

4. (SBU) Most subscribers opt for dial-up services, although
connections speeds are extremely unreliable and slow (less than 24
kilobytes per second) due to poor quality phone lines.
Approximately 2,000 consumers, primarily businesses in Rangoon and
Mandalay, use ADSL, which has a speed of anywhere between 64kps to
512kps. Outside of the larger cities, rural communities are forced
to use the more than 1,000 IPSTAR terminals (which use bandwidth
acquired from Shin Satellite, owned by former Thai Prime Minister
Taksin) to access the internet. Wireless local loop, which in 2003
had approximately 2,000 subscribers, is now virtually obsolete in
Burma, and the cost of VSAT is too prohibitive for most Burmese.

Avoid High Costs, Use Cyber Cafes
---------------------------------

5. (SBU) Due to the high cost of internet subscriptions (see chart
below) and the lack of private computer ownership, the majority of
Burmese internet users access the internet from cyber cafes.
According to Wanna More, Executive Director of Myanma Computer
Company, there are more than 150 cyber cafes throughout the country,
with new ones opening weekly. Most cyber cafes have between 10-30
computers available, and charge an average of 1500 kyat (USD 1.15)
per hour. In addition to cyber cafes, internet is available at many

RANGOON 00000718 002.2 OF 003


hotels, computer training centers, some universities. The American
Center and the British Council are also popular free surfing sites.


--------------------------------------------- ----------
Cost of Internet Services in 2007, Burma
In U.S. Dollars*
--------------------------------------------- ----------
Service Start Up Cost Monthly Cost
--------------------------------------------- ----------
Dial Up 40.00-50.00 25.00**

Broadband
ADSL 1000.00 b/t 30-125***
IPSTAR 2000.00 1.00 per kilobyte
Wireless Local Loop 1500.00 N/A
VSAT 2000.00+ N/A
--------------------------------------------- ----------
*calculated at 1290 kyat/$1
**cost of 60 hours per month. 10 hours/month costs UD6.50
***ADSL: USD 30 for 128 MB; USD 70 for 256 MB; USD 125 for 512 MB
Source: Ministry of Post and Telecommunications

6. (SBU) Myanmar InfoTech, a private consortium of 50 local
companies supported by the MTC, issues cyber cafe licenses on behalf
of the GOB. Although these licenses are relatively easy to obtain,
they require that license holders register users before allowing
them internet access and ask cafe owners to monitor screen activity.
Khun Oo informed us that the GOB is desperate to improve internet
penetration throughout the country, and hopes that by granting new
licenses, it can increase the overall penetration rate to 0.5
percent by the end of the year.

7. (SBU) Despite the expense of a cyber cafe for ordinary Burmese,
demand, particularly among the younger generation, has increased.
These users are primarily interested in the internet for email and
chatting purposes. More and more young people, Khun Oo noted, are
trying to use voice over internet protocol (VOIP) to contact family
and friends outside of Burma. Internet users at some universities
and other public access centers employ computers for academic
research.

Circumventing Internet Bans
---------------------------

8. (SBU) The Burmese government has banned access to free email
sites, such as Yahoo! and Hotmail and some VOIP services, in order
to control access to the outside world. In July, the GOB banned the
use of another VOIP program, Mediaring Talk. To date, the GOB has
yet to ban popular VOIP program Gtalk, presumably because it is not
aware of the program's existence. VOIP services allow people to
make inexpensive international phone calls over the internet,
thereby preventing the GOB to collect much needed revenue from
overpriced international phone calls. Additionally, the GOB feels
threatened by VOIP programs, as it is unable to monitor phone
conversations. Wanna More commented that the GOB, as it learns more
about other VOIP programs, will likely restrict access to these
services in the future.

9. (SBU) The government uses programs such as Dan's Guardian and
Fortinet's Fortiguard to block specific internet sites. Wanna More
told us that the GOB utilizes monitoring software that checks emails
for key words/phrases and large attachments. Many of our NGO and
business contacts confirmed that some email is delivered instantly,
but most messages are delayed up to 24 hours, presumably because the
government is scrutinizing the messages.

RANGOON 00000718 003.2 OF 003

10. (SBU) In order to circumvent these prohibitions, the majority
of Burmese cyber cafes utilize proxy servers or web tunnel programs
to access restricted sites. Burmese consumers complain that while
these programs work, they significantly reduce the speed of the
internet. Wanna More explained that MPT and Myanmar Teleport
continually add foreign proxy and tunnel servers to the domain
blacklist, but that they are unable to block all programs. Both MPT
and Myanmar Teleport want to make a profit from internet usage, he
rationalized, and to uphold all bans would significantly cut into
profits. Instead, he opined, these organizations "restrict internet
access to the minimum extent possible."

Comment
-------

11. (SBU) Although the Burmese government views the internet as a
pulpit for the Burmese dissidents abroad, there appears to be a
healthy, albeit small, internet market in Burma. The GOB finds
itself in a precarious position - it wants to show the world that it
is encouraging internet growth, but at the same time, it does not
want to lose control over the internet. The GOB may be fighting a
losing battle, as even government entities are condoning the
circumvention of internet bans in order to make a profit. The
number of computer savvy Burmese increases daily, and they will
continue to try to evade the government's efforts to obstruct access
to websites and programs that provide a link to the outside world.
There is a demand for the truth in Burma - and the internet may be
one of the few tools to provide that information to those who will
use it.

STOLTZ

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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