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How long would your business last without the Internet?


By Scott Bradner


The government of Egypt decided that Egyptians should not be able to talk with each other or to the world so they turned off the Internet and most cell phones.  The government was worried that Egyptians would talk with each other and plot against the government apparently not an unwarranted worry. As a byproduct, Egyptian business that depend on the Internet were also cut off.  Variations on the same theme but in other countries have happened before and are likely to happen again in the future. Maybe it is unlikely that could happen in the US but it does provide a prod for us to think about what an Internet-free life would be like for US businesses.


By the way, it is not a given that the US Government would never try to shut down parts of all of the US Internet.  Legislation introduced last year by Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tom Carper (D-Del.) has been widely criticized for including an "Internet kill switch" which would give the administration, whichever administration happened to be in power, the authority to pull the plug on chunks of the Internet in the name of national security.  I've looked at the bill ( and do not find a smoking gun that clearly provides that authority, but this is clearly not a bill that was written by a few congressional staffers sitting in a back room of the Senate Office Building.  The bill contains more than 200 pages of detailed text, enabling all sorts of things - in many ways a government wish list of powers.


But lets say that the US government does not tell your ISP to stop accepting your traffic or tell your hosting provider to stop accepting traffic destined for your website.  Lets say instead that your ISP or hosting company goes out of business or that there is a ice storm that takes down power and ISP lines and it takes a two weeks to get it back up (as happened a while back in central Mass.)  How well would your company fair under that sort of scenario?


No one could telecommute, no one at the office could use the 'Net to communicate with customers or suppliers, and your customers could not reach you to buy things or services (i.e., give you money).  Going without the 'Net for a few days would not be good for many businesses and could be real bad for some. 


It may not be all that likely that you will suffer a major outage but you may want to take this opportunity to think about what level of outage you can actually take without it being a serious problem for the company.  If you decide that being without Internet connectivity for more than a few hours would be a bad thing you should look into dual homing to a second ISP (although that will not help you if a fallen tree in front of your building takes down all the lines into the building.  You can also look into having a redundant web server at a backup hosting site.


Come to think of it, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a US government could be tempted to disrupt communications within the country.  It is not all that long ago that an unpopular war and the assassination of a major civil rights leader caused serious demonstrations all over the country or that a jury's decision led to riots within a city.  One of the natural inclinations of government, as shown in Egypt, is to assume things would be better if the people opposing the government cannot talk with each other.  But I hope that the US systems would not let any such temptations get turned into action.


disclaimer: Harvard does multihome but has not expressed, at least in this context, an opinion on disrupting citizen communications so the above observations are my own.