With nearly the whole world under one form or another of stay-at-home orders in April, anyone who could turned to the Internet to work, learn, relax, or maintain social connections. The increased traffic raised concerns about whether the Internet would catastrophically fail, but the good news is that the Internet did not catastrophically fail, in large part due to its network-of-networks architecture. That architecture meant that the disruptions that did occur were, for the most part, limited in time and scope.
Although Internet disruptions have always been problematic for affected users, March 2020 was arguably the month where they became of ever greater global concern as so many shifted to working and learning from home due to COVID-19 driven lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders. The Internet has become a lifeline, supporting communication with loved ones, enabling online education, and facilitating days full of videoconferencing in place of in-person meetings.
While this blog has never claimed to be exhaustive in its coverage of Internet disruptions, it has endeavored to catalog the various causes of those disruptions, and most months see quite a few documented causes. Interestingly, March only saw documented disruptions due to power outages and cable/fiber issues, with a couple of additional due to possible network issues. (There were, of course, a number of other observed disruptions, but root causes were unable to be identified or confirmed through research or social media outreach.)
Internet-related media coverage in December tends to be e-commerce related, with discussions about how retail sites performed (or failed to) on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, followed by complaints about problems downloading software updates or games, and registering new connected devices after the holiday presents are unwrapped. However, when Internet disruptions occur, that coverage shifts to highlight the problems caused by the disruptions.
In November, many of us in the United States think about the Internet in terms of having to fix the connectivity problems at a relative’s house while visiting them for Thanksgiving, or using it to escape from those same relatives for a few minutes by browsing social media or watching a video. However, across the rest of the world, the connectivity problems seen in November weren’t the kind a quick router reboot would solve. Blackouts caused Internet disruptions in Curaçao and Venezuela, fiber/cable issues caused problems in Haiti, Venezuela, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia, and routing issues disrupted connectivity in Indonesia and Ecuador. However, the most significant Internet disruptions in November were week-long government directed shutdowns in Iraq and Iran.
September… when school is back in session, the leaves begin to change, and stable Internet connectivity apparently remains elusive in many countries. Although the Internet disruptions observed around the world this during last month were not due to the change of seasons or the start of school, their underlying causes were very familiar, including power outages, national exams, severe weather, network issues, and DDoS attacks.
The August 1994 issue of WIRED Magazine hardly hinted at the coming ubiquity of the Internet, featuring articles on CD-ROM games and reviews of the Apple Newton. Commercial Internet services were very much in their infancy at the time, with the issue containing just a few advertisements for nascent Internet Service Providers, such as the one shown below. Twenty-five years ago, Internet disruptions were more likely to be caused by overloaded modem banks or congestion at one of the few peering points available at the time.
Today, Internet connectivity is significantly more ubiquitous, faster and less expensive (in most places), and generally reliable. With increased Internet availability and usage, however, disruptions become more noticeable, and impact a significantly larger population of users. In August, we observed Internet disruptions around the world due to power outages, national exams, and network issues. Several government-directed disruptions were widely reported as well, but were not easily observable in monitoring tools.