THE BLOG
02/02/2011 07:58 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

No Internet in Egypt? We Can Fix That

Egypt has gone missing. The entire country dropped off the Internet:

Egypt has apparently done what many technologists thought was unthinkable for any country with a major Internet economy: It unplugged itself entirely from the Internet to try and silence dissent. According to internet monitoring firm Renesys, shortly before 2300 GMT on 27 January virtually all routes to Egyptian networks were simultaneously withdrawn from the Internet's global routing table.

All of Egypt's Internet addresses are virtually unreachable.

As far as we can tell not much is getting out. No text messages. No cell phone calls. No web traffic... Egypt has gone silent.

We're all wondering what's going on inside.  News is only trickling out right now. But as I was running our twitters (@ahumanright) a tweet by @shervin popped up with a lovely call to action: "put a satellite terminal, batteries and a wifi router in a backpack. Re-distribute the service the WiFi."  Essentially @shervin was suggesting we create an "internet access vigilante" -- a guy who gets anyone around him online.   That got me thinking, what if we rolled out our own vigilante cell phone towers? Any smart phone could use the service to get online, you could even make phone calls.

Immediately the OpenBTS project popped into my head. OpenBTS is the open source equivalent to a cell phone tower. In simple terms: install free OpenBTS software on a computer, connect the computer to a transmitter and you've got a fully functioning cellular system.

The system gained notoriety at Burning Man 2009. There burners erected their own cell tower:

Like other GSM cell networks, OpenBTS networks can connect to the public switched network and the Internet. Because it converts to VoIP, it "makes every cell phone look like a SIP end point ... and every cell phone looks like an IP device. But we don't touch anything in the phone ... any GSM phone will work, from a $15 refurbished cell phone all the way up to iPhones and Androids."

...In Egypt a satellite "backhaul" would need to be added to move data out of the country and get people online. But satellites services are still functioning:

A Thuraya customer service representative said on Friday there were no issues with its service in Egypt, but she did not know if there was an uptick in traffic coming from the country.

Satellite services are not dependent on local carriers for connectivity. So someone in Egypt, for example, could snap a photo of the protests and upload it to a computer connected to a BGAN satellite modem. - PC World

Essentially anyone in the vicinity of an OpenBTS tower with a cellphone can access and share vital information.

ahumanright.org is reaching out to any and all owners of VSAT terminals and the necessary equipment to run OpenBTS, if you've got any and like to help get in touch!  We're also crowd-sourcing the purchase of the purchase of a satellite to solve this connectivity issue once and for all.