IDLIB: Residents of the opposition-controlled Idlib countryside are fed up with their internet connection.
Damage to infrastructure and electrical grids has cut off internet coverage for over two-thirds of Syrians according to Freedom House’s 2015 “Freedom on the Net” report.
But even those with access to Syria’s internet service providers (ISPs) face well-documented dangers.
Government surveillance and cybersecurity threats are rampant in Syrian cyberspace which is, according to the same Freedom House report, “one of the most repressive and dangerous environments for internet users.”
Residents in opposition areas have relied on international satellite internet (VSAT), but the cost of equipment and service is prohibitive for many Syrians.
Frustrated with high prices and unstable connections, Idlib residents have turned to Turkish ISPs as a potential alternative.
‘Browse and download without worry’
The demand for dependable, affordable internet is high in opposition-controlled territories and justifiably so.
From the onset of the Syrian conflict, the ease and decreasing price of internet has allowed media outlets and citizens alike to use Facebook, Twitter, and other applications to document the war.
For many families split between Syria and countries abroad, mobile applications provide the only channel to get in contact.
Even opposition forces have switched to online apps such as WhatsApp and Telegram as their primary source of communication.
However, international satellite internet poses its own obstacles, as Bashar Mughlaj, an engineer who runs the ISP “Z.Net” in the Idlib countryside, told the Syrian Voice.
“In 2012, we dealt with satellite services, such as Tooway, but the cost of an internet bundle was too high and it wasn’t fast enough for us,” said Mughlaj.
Mughlaj told Syrian Voice correspondents that these issues prompted the switch to Turkish ISPs citing their “high speeds and low costs.”
“The difference is clear,” as Abu Amer, a civilian in the southern Idlib countryside, told a correspondent.
“The price of satellite internet equipment alone is $350… now I just need the equipment to get a signal, sold for $75, and then I just connect to one of the [Turkish] networks,” he explained.
The need for regime or satellite connections has faded, according to Mustafa al-Ahmed, a countryside resident of Idlib.
He stressed that the spread of social media and calling applications has gotten rid of any need for the country’s traditional telecommunications system, particularly in light of the fast Turkish ISPs.
Though connecting is simple for internet users, the back-end setup can be quite complicated. The emergence of alternative telecommunications systems and internet sources has pushed a number of young Syrians to learn internet programming despite lacking previous experience in the field.
Ahmed al-Khalif, a displaced resident from the northern Hama countryside, opened up an internet café after graduating with a law degree.
“I tried to learn about internet setup and programming,” he told a Syrian Voice correspondent. “Now I know how to deal with all the hardware, which has provided me with a lot of work and money.”
“We secure internet from a multitude of Turkish providers like Turkcel and Turktelcom,” Bashar Mughlaj informed the Syrian Voice. “We get access by using satellites dishes to direct the signals.”
Using towers, engineers such as Mughlaj divert the signals from Turkey into the server which then delivers internet service to homes through private lines.
Internet coverage of northern Syria was briefly cut off in the aftermath of the attempted coup in Turkey; however, the outage was short-lived as internet service quickly returned to normal.
Despite the outage, Turkish ISPs have shown to be a viable internet source for Syrians according to Abu Amer.
“One can browse and download without worry.”
Translated by Tariq Adely