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Cablegate: Burma: Slow Expansion of the Internet

VZCZCXRO9309
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH RUEHTRO
DE RUEHGO #0814/01 2940754
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 200754Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY RANGOON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8296
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHGG/UN SECURITY COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2072
RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA 1586
RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA 5017
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 2045
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI 5070
RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 8668
RUEHTC/AMEMBASSY THE HAGUE 0692
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 6237
RUEHCN/AMCONSUL CHENGDU 1610
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 1884
RUEHCI/AMCONSUL KOLKATA 0458
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEKJCS/DIA WASHDC
RUEATRS/DEPT OF TREASURY WASHDC
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 4087
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2052
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHDC
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 RANGOON 000814

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

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

E.O. 12958:N/A
TAGS: ECON ECPS PGOV BM
SUBJECT: BURMA: SLOW EXPANSION OF THE INTERNET

RANGOON 00000814 001.2 OF 003


1. (SBU) Summary. Despite the GOB's continued efforts to limit
access to the outside world via the internet, Burmese continue to
find creative ways to circumvent regime bans. Users employ proxy
servers or web tunnel programs to access blocked programs, such as
free email providers, chat rooms, blogs, and voice-over-internet
protocol (VOIP). Internet access is widely available in large
cities, and entrepreneurial Burmese are expanding access to rural
areas with new cyber cafes. Despite high costs, internet use in the
past eight years has increased from 2,000 users in 2000 to more than
400,000 estimated in 2008. The GOB plans to increase internet
penetration throughout the country from 0.3 to 0.5 percent by the
end of the year by granting licenses for new cyber cafes - but at
the same time will continue its efforts to obstruct access to
websites it deems sensitive. End Summary.

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

2. (SBU) Despite GOB efforts to limit access to "sensitive"
websites (international news, blogs, and any websites with
anti-government content), internet services are readily available in
parts of Burma. The country has two national internet service
providers (ISPs), one controlled by the Ministry of Post and
Telecommunications (MPT) and the other run by semi-private (but
MPT-controlled) Myanmar Teleport. (Note: Myanmar Teleport,
previously known as Bagan Cybertech, was established in 2000 by
former Prime Minister Khin Nyunt's son. After Khin Nyunt was ousted
in 2004, the company was sold and renamed. End Note.) The GOB
plans to allow Chinese-owned Alcatel-Shanghai Bell to start a new
ISP by December. According to Mya Han, Managing Director of Fortune
International and owner of two large internet cafes, the new ISP
will also be controlled by MPT. Burmese internet users have six
ways to connect to the internet: dial-up, three types of broadband
connections (ADSL, IPSTAR and wireless local loop), VSAT (Very Small
Aperture Terminal) satellite, and recently introduced Wi-Max
services.

3. (SBU) MPT records list approximately 40,000 internet
subscribers throughout the country, although officials estimate that
each subscription services an average of ten people, up from six in
2006. MPT reports that internet use has increased substantially
since 2000, from 2,000 to more than 400,000 users. Even so, Burma
still has one of the world's lowest per capita rates of internet
use, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, and internet
penetration is estimated at 0.3 percent, according to unpublished
official figures.

--------------------------------------------- ----------
Cost of Internet Services in 2008, 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
Wi-Max 1800.00 b/t 30-125***
--------------------------------------------- ----------
*calculated at 1270 kyat/$1

RANGOON 00000814 002.2 OF 003


**cost of 60 hours per month. 10 hours/month costs UD6.50
***ADSL and Wi-Max: USD 30 for 128 MB; USD 70 for 256 MB; USD 125
for 512 MB
Source: Ministry of Post and Telecommunications; Myanmar Computer
Federation

4. (SBU) According to Thaung Tin, Secretary of the Myanmar
Computer Federation, a government-mandated but privately run group
of companies that work in the computer industry, most at-home
subscribers opt for dial-up services because it is the most
affordable, though connections speeds are extremely unreliable and
slow (less than 24 kilobytes per second) due to poor quality phone
lines. Approximately 3,000 customers, primarily businesses in
Rangoon and Mandalay, use ADSL or broadband, which have speeds of
anywhere between 64kps to 512kps. Currently, only approximately
1,000 people subscribe to Wi-Max, introduced by Myanmar Teleport in
January 2008, but the number of customers increases monthly, Thaung
Tin told us. 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 and the
lack of private computer ownership, the majority of Burmese internet
users rely on cyber cafes. According to Khun Oo, Vice President of
the Myanmar Computer Professionals Association, a
government-mandated but privately-run group that represents computer
technicians, there are more than 400 internet cafes in Rangoon and
over 500 more throughout the country. Most cyber cafes have between
10-30 computers available and charge an average of 500 kyat (USD
0.40) per hour in Rangoon. In addition to cyber cafes, internet is
available at many hotels, computer training centers, and some
universities. The American Center and the British Council are also
popular free internet access locations.

6. (SBU) According to Khun Oo, the GOB requires all internet cafes
to register. 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,
the GOB requires cafe owners to register users before allowing them
internet access; take screen shots from all computers in use every
15 seconds; and submit a usage log to MPT every two weeks. Thaung
Tin told us that approximately 250 of the 400 internet cafes in
Rangoon are licensed. However, the GOB has done little to shut down
unregistered cafes, despite efforts to monitor internet usage. Khun
Oo informed us that the GOB wants 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 email and chat rooms. More
and more young people, Khun Oo noted, use voice over internet
protocol (VOIP), such as Gtalk or Skype, to contact family and
friends outside of Burma. Internet users at some universities and
other public access centers employ computers for academic research.

RANGOON 00000814 003.2 OF 003

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

8. (SBU) The Burmese government has banned access to free email
sites, such as Yahoo! and Hotmail and some VOIP services to control
access to the outside world. VOIP services allow people to make
inexpensive international phone calls over the internet, thereby
preventing the GOB from collecting revenue from overpriced
international phone calls. Additionally, the GOB feels threatened
by VOIP programs, as it is unable to monitor those phone
conversations. To date, Gtalk is the only VOIP service that has not
been banned.

9. (SBU) The government uses programs such as Dan's Guardian and
Fortinet's Fortiguard to block specific internet sites. Mya Han
told us the GOB utilizes monitoring software that checks emails for
key words/phrases and large attachments. Many of our NGO and
business contacts confirmed that when using an internet account with
a .mm domain, some email arrives instantly, but most messages are
delayed up to 24 hours, presumably because the government
scrutinizes messages with large attachments.

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. Most cafes change their proxy servers
daily, while others openly list proxy websites that will enable
users to enter blocked domains. Burmese consumers complain that
while these programs work, they significantly reduce the speed of
the internet. Thaung Tin 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 appear to
"restrict internet access to the minimum extent possible."

Comment
-------

11. (SBU) Although the Burmese government views the internet as a
platform for Burmese dissidents, both inside and outside the
country, there appears to be a healthy, albeit small, internet
market in Burma in spite of GOB restrictions. 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. Additionally, several
Embassy contacts observed that ISP officials could be doing a better
job of blocking websites and proxy servers; instead, they appear to
be doing the minimum necessary to keep their supervisors happy. As
the number of computer savvy Burmese increases, they will become
more adept at evading the government's efforts to obstruct access to
websites and programs that provide a link to the outside world.
There is a demand for accurate information in Burma - and the
internet is one of the few tools to provide that information to
those who can use it.

VAJDA

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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