How does internet censorship work? Part 1

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Many Swedish internet users have been unable to access certain Spanish language sites over the past couple of weeks. The following article from Rebelión, one of the blocked sites, claims that Cogent (misidentified in the original article as “CogNet”), the North American company that provides internet bandwidth to Telia, the Swedish telecom company through which many Swedes connect, has been deliberately censoring end-users’ access to the sites. It’s possible, but a quick Google search also indicates that there is some sort of peering conflict going on between Telia and Cogent, as evidenced by the many gamers whining “I cant play Flyff!”

When the U.S. engages in internet censorship it usually goes a more direct route – yanking domains directly, through the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which as the Cuban journalist Rosa Miriam Elizalde pointed out, has more than two dozen people assigned to harass North Americans traveling to Cuba, and four to track the finances of Osama bin Laden, and prior to his snuffing, Saddam Hussein.

If it were interested in censorship through peering (and Machetera is not saying it isn’t), Machetera believes the United States would take care to leave the gamers alone. Left to their own devices in their tiny virtual worlds, they are as harmless and useless as rocks, living zombies unlikely to agitate for anything more than unfettered bandwidth, not to mention ideal recruits for future wars, having mastered the technology to target and eliminate faceless victims from great distances with the touch of a button. Those who’ve mastered Mercenaries 2: World in Flames will have no problem locating targets in downtown Caracas (thank you Bono!) since it simulates a Venezuelan invasion justified by the fact that “A power-hungry tyrant [has messed] with the United States’ Venezuela’s oil supply.” Hmm, who might that be?

Peering is a term well known within the internet community and not so well known by the lay public, but it has to do with traffic exchange between providers. The easiest way to visualize it is to think of the internet as a network with large and small groups of customers spread all over the world – peering allows Verizon customers to reach Deutsch Telecom customers and vice versa. Or as in this case, Cogent end-users can reach Telia end users and vice versa. Or not. Peering is in everyone’s interest because an internet where people can only connect with certain customers and not with others is not very useful. It’s more like an Intranet.

Peering agreements are not transparent and as in most capitalist enterprises, lend themselves to abuse, with larger providers charging smaller providers to “peer,” despite the fact that by not peering freely with everyone, they are essentially offering their customers an intranet, rather than an internet connection, as Telia’s Swedish customers have just learned. Machetera’s advice to the managers of the apartment blocks trapped in such a ridiculous arrangement is that they terminate their contracts immediately, since they have been breached, and move to a provider that understands and appreciates internet service. Typically it’s not a phone company.

A U.S. Owned Enterprise Blocks Swedish Access to rebelión.org and the Bolivarian News Agency

Ernesto Tamara – Rebelión

The websites of Rebelión (www.rebelión.org) and the Bolivarian News Agency (www.abi.bo), among others, have been censored by various internet providers in Sweden and other European countries.

Telia, the Swedish telecom and internet provider, was affected by a decision made by the North American company Cogent, which administers access provided through a variety of servers. The measure was taken unilaterally, and prevents all internet subscribers whose service flows through Telia from accessing Rebelión, ABI and other sites.

Most internet providers receiving service through Telia realized the sites were being censored after trying for more than a week to reach them, without success.

Concerned by what appeared to be a server error, users contacted Telia’s customer service.

The response was not at all reassuring. Cogent had censored access to certain Spanish and Latin American pages for reasons unknown and there was no possibility that service would be restored in the short term.

Telia maintains that nothing can be done to restore the connection to those sites, admitting that it is dealing with censorship and a limitation on freedom of information. It adds that it is negotiating with Cogent, but so far without positive results.

The censored sites can be accessed from other internet servers, particularly those run through smaller firms. In some cities the censorship involves thousands of users, since management for entire apartment blocks, such as HSB, has contracted to provide tenants with broadband internet service through the state Telia network.

Telia is the largest internet service provider in Sweden and is associated with other enterprises in Scandinavia.

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