The Impact Of Egypt Cutting Itself Off From The Internet

from the could-be-pretty-big dept

As the news came out late Monday that the last remaining independent ISP, who had remained online in Egypt, has now turned off its connection to the wider internet as well, people are beginning to explore what this all means. Andrew McLaughlin, who until recently was the deputy CTO of the Obama administration, has penned a thoughtful article for the Guardian noting how this emphasizes how infrastructure really matters and how limited competition allows these situations to develop:
The internet cutoff shows how the details of infrastructure matter. Despite having no large-scale or centralised censorship apparatus, Egypt was still able to shut down its communications in a matter of minutes. This was possible because Egypt permitted only three wireless carriers to operate, and required all internet service providers (ISPs) to funnel their traffic through a handful of international links. Confronted with mass demonstrations and fearful about a populace able to organise itself, the government had to order fewer than a dozen companies to shut down their networks and disconnect their routers from the global internet.
But, perhaps the bigger question is how will the cut off actually impact the Egyptian economy and wider society as a whole. It's really quite amazing how integrated the internet has become in all our lives, and it really has become a fundamental part of the economy and how we live. Pulling the plug on the internet in a decently large country has serious ramification both inside the country (most seriously) and outside:
A central unknown at this moment is what the economic harm to the country will be. Without internet and voice networks, Egyptians are losing transactions and deals, their stocks and commodities cannot be traded, their goods are halted on frozen transportation networks, and their bank deposits are beyond reach.

Also unknown is how many Egyptians have been harmed in non-economic ways as human beings. As things stand, a worried mother who has not heard from her son or daughter can't send an email or check Facebook for a status update. A witness to violence or abuse can't seek help, document responsibility, or warn others via Twitter or a blog.

Life-saving information is inaccessible. Healthy, civil debate about the future is squashed. And in the absence of trustworthy news, firsthand reports and real-time images, rumour and fear flourish. In all those ways, the total internet cutoff undermines the government's own interest in restoring calm and order.
I imagine that there will be numerous case studies that come out of this unfortunate situation, based on what happens. One can only hope that the actual harms aren't as bad as they might be.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 7:27am

    Something I just found relevent to this.

    I was Stumbling around the web when I found this surprisingly relevant article. It's on how people can work around an Internet kill switch using dial-up. I don't know how many people in Egypt will ever read this, but I feel it should still be spread around as much as possible.

    "Egypt can use this number for dial up: +33172890150 (login 'toto' password 'toto') - thanks to a French ISP (FDN)"

    I love how it's a French ISP offering this one.

     

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  2.  
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    Jacob, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 7:30am

    Is the goal of protests to make known a particular problem? Is the whole point of sit-ins to create enough inconvenience to another party that the issue forced to be dealt with? Considering the nature of the protests, how much more damage do they cause to the economy and the people by shutting down the city's infrastructure.

     

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  3.  
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    Jason, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 7:33am

    Sound priorities, Andrew...

    Central...is the economy. Also...human beings.

     

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  4.  
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    John Doe, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 7:42am

    The downside is...

    The downside to this is it will become the model for other countries now that they see how easy and effectively the internet can be cut off. I hope this is a lesson to the US and other people what an "internet kill switch" means and how it could/would be used. If we the people learn the right lesson here, it is that we do not want our government to have this power.

    Besides the impact on our freedoms, there would be a huge impact on business. A large chunk of business is done online these days. Not just retail business either, but business to business communications. There are many online only companies today. Shutting off the internet would just about shut down the country.

     

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  5.  
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    JESUS, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 7:44am

    well, first total internet shutdown, I bet many more will soon follow

     

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  6.  
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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 7:48am

    Tipping point

    I think that we have reached a "tipping point" where the ability (or inability) to access the Internet / WWW is an inalienable human right, nay a necessity, and to cut off totally such connections invalidates the authority of the cutting entities. Egypt will sorely suffer from this bit of hubris, and it will be "interesting" (as in the Buddhist curse "May you live in interesting times") to see what all the ramifications of this action will be...

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 7:50am

    Egypt didn't just cut off the internet, they cut off all communications including phones.

    What they didn't cut off was the will of the people to keep going to the streets, and somehow they are still organizing and protesting, so the world may not be there with them right now but they are still using networks(human or otherwise).

     

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  8.  
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    iamtheky (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 7:52am

    Who is left to enforce the shutdown if they just turned the net back on? Are they worried of the fines they will incur from a cabinet that does not exist or punishment from a regime that is days away from done? Seems one of those ISPs could purchase some of the wandering military defenses to defend the HQ and go rogue.

     

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  9.  
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    cc (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 7:56am

    Cut off people's access to lolcats..? They may REALLY REALLY MAD!!!!

     

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  10.  
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    Lisae Boucher (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 7:58am

    The Internet is about 20 years old. Modern communication devices aren't that much older either. So assuming that people can't survive without all this modern technology is just false. People can and will survive. People will find other ways to communicate, even though it might take much longer for messages to go back and forth.
    It won't kill the messenger, just slow it down a bit.

     

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  11.  
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    Overcast (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 8:03am

    "Andrew McLaughlin, who until recently was the deputy CTO of the Obama administration"

    I'm sure this is a splendid test case for Government and it's burning desire for control over the internet.

    I think the US would be far more robust to be honest.

    I agree 100% Lisae, it's not nearly as 'critical' as some might think. Perhaps critical to the business of some companies, but for people in general - it's about as critical as TV.

     

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  12.  
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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 8:07am

    Re:

    BREAKING NEWS: Pigeons are seen leaving the coastline of Egypt.

     

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  13.  
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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 8:12am

    Re:

    If the US were to do the same as Egypt, it'd have a lot more ramifications for the rest of the world. As a lot of the services mentioned (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, etc) are hosted in the USA.

    If the US government were to install and use such a "killswitch", I'd say the majority of people affected would be outside the USA. And then the US government would have a battle on two fronts, inside and outside of the border.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 8:23am

    Comments about politics on the internet at random.

    At 6:45 in that video that came from Snake Bytes TV.

    Honestly Kel all of the politicians are just being stupid and blind at this point. It's all about party lines. It's no longer about what politics is: compromise. Now politics in the U.S. only consists of which party is more of an a*****e all together.


    You think people who like to watch snakes bitting others would have some nice things to say about politicians.

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 8:27am

    Re:

    Survive is about right, but there are real losses with no internet, like it or not it is a wonderful place to learn just about anything.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 8:28am

    Re: Re:

    Pigeons with USB drives?

    Also people should look out for:

    - Smoke signals.
    - Light signals.

     

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  17.  
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    J.J. (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 8:29am

    Cutting net might have been a big mistake.

    Just think how many people are now out on the streets that would otherwise have been passive news consumers in their own homes.

    Sure, by cutting communications they might have made it a tiny bit harder for the really motivated people to organize big protests, but as it is now they have people on the streets that would never have gone if they could get news and reports in the safety of their own homes.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 8:31am

    Sadly, this isn't an example of the "centralized internet" rather what some governments will do to keep control.

    In a country the size of Egypt (about 1.4 times larger than Texas total) having 4 major ISPs plus minor players is damn good. That is for a population only 10 times the size of New York city proper (or about 4 times that of New York State completely). That is very good coverage. They also have multiple peering connections to Italy, to France into Africa, and sit in the middle of the Euro - Asian main trunk.

    There is nothing centralized here. I understand that you are trying to frame this in a way to use against the "internet stop button" concept in the US, but can you please at least try to be somewhat honest about it? The information in this post is just not accurate at all.

     

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  19.  
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    Ben (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 8:36am

    Pic I did for B3ta on this subject

     

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  20.  
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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 8:58am

    Re:

    There is nothing centralized here. I understand that you are trying to frame this in a way to use against the "internet stop button" concept in the US, but can you please at least try to be somewhat honest about it?

    The Internet: Where it isn't possible to just be mistaken about something; you also have to be a liar with an agenda.

     

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  21.  
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    Jason, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 8:59am

    Same thing happened in my neighborhood...

    I'm the treasurer for our local HOA, and the other week the couple across the street were out in the yard screaming in rage at each other. The guy chases his wife into the house, more screaming, stuff breaking, and then it's quiet. Then, the weirdest thing - one by one all the shades are drawn before the guy comes out and cuts the phone line and the internet cable.

    I'm thinking, wait he always pays his dues with online bill pay. What's this going to mean for our budget?

     

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  22.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 9:09am

    Re: The downside is...

    Too late, there's already talk going on for just such an internet kill switch. What with all the cyber-warfare going on. They say we need to protect ourselves. I havn't heard who is testing the waters but I wouldn't be surprised if it wasn't the MPAA or RIAA.

     

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  23.  
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    Berenerd (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 9:20am

    Re: Something I just found relevent to this.

    I agree, however I do believe phone lines are being cut/have been cut in most cities. I do think this is great.

     

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  24.  
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    Berenerd (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 9:30am

    Re: Re:

    I honestly don't think the US will be able to do it. Too many companies would suffer (big business) and senators would lose money.

     

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  25.  
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    m3mnoch (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 9:37am

    Re:

    it's not just the messengers or messages. what you're missing is that money -- not just pocket change, but money from large down to small business -- is electronic and transferred via the internet. and remember, the internet is not just links outside the country, but within as well.

    and no, it's not just what happens when that atm can't spit out cash.

    it's about credit not working which means cash only. it's about there not being enough physical cash reserves to survive nation-wide bank runs. it's about a lack of electronic credit causing stockpiles of cash forming in centralized areas which make looting and theft crazy lucrative.

    it's about all this wealth suddenly moving to meat-space and the authorities not being able to do a thing about protecting it because they're too busy elsewhere.

    and none of that even touches on foreign sentiment and engagement into the egyptian economy. the mere hint of wealth being suddenly lost like this will cause a ripple effect through all future investment not only in egypt, but similar "relatively stable" nations. think of it as kind of an investment bank run as everyone pulls their people and money out.

    when your modern economy (which is really just about 1s and 0s getting transferred over the wire) gets completely shut down, bad shit happens.

    trust me. it's not just about the lolcats and facebook status updates. this is bad, bad, bad.

    m3mnoch.

     

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  26.  
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    Mateo Jose (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 9:46am

    Re: Pigeons with USB drives

    I would suggest a Ham radio network. With repeaters, you could reach all the way to Canada. There, the "Resistance" could dictate your tweets directly to the Internet. Let's hope that the feds don't employ any type of frequency jamming!

     

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  27.  
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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 10:44am

    Pigeon-net

    This reminds me of the early-mid 80's when HP in Cupertino use pigeons to send engineering drawings to a subsidiary over the mountains in Grass Valley, CA. There was no high-speed internet then, and even motorcycle couriers were less efficient (slower, and more expensive) than loading the pigeons with a microfilm copy of the drawings and sending them over the mountains... :-)

     

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  28.  
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    Jimr (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:04am

    All Can think is this is good. Good in that it show the value of the internet and FREE SPEECH. You might be luckily and get some over reactive congress person to claim the internet is right in a democratic country. Much like freedom of the press, but in this case the press has evolved to be the internet.

    If the US can get the internet declared as a right then it makes it impossible to have three strikes you are kicked of the internet policy.

     

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  29.  
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    TSO, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:07am

    "Internet treats censorship as a malfunction and routes around it".

    I'm pretty sure it will make quite a few hackers think about de-centralized mesh network technologies, and start implementing them.

    The game of whack-a-mole continues. Get your popcorn.

     

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  30.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:29am

    Re: Re: Something I just found relevent to this.

    I can't say. If that much networking is cut off, we can't be sure of anything we hear.

    But I just found this stating that Google setup a number for Egypt to call to post Twitters. I would guess that Google made sure they could call out before setting that up. Again, I don't know.

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:46am

    Re:

    Personal communication, yes, we will find ways, but in many countries, look at how much is done with an internet/digital connection - how much cash do most people carry on them - what about all the bills set up to automatically deduct - direct deposit - even something like gas where those price boards are updated or stories whose check out registers are linked - some countries would not be as impacted, but many would.

     

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  32.  
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    Lisae Boucher (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:51am

    Re: Re:

    True, existing businesses will go tits up, but new businesses will rise from their ashes, using a different payment method. Maybe people will just barter more, trading two donkeys for a camel as transport, or whatever.
    Life doesn't stop when the Internet stops. Things just change. It will be bad for some, but new chances for others...

     

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  33.  
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    Lisae Boucher (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:52am

    Re: Re:

    Still makes me wonder how the Farao's from the old times managed to build those pyramids without the use of Internet...

     

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  34.  
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    Eugene (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:53am

    Re:

    So...Egypt's government is effectively doing the protesters' job for them? :P

     

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  35.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:54am

    Re:

    I understand that you are trying to frame this in a way to use against the "internet stop button" concept in the US

    Apparently someone didn't read my post about how there is no such internet stop button concept in the US.

    Try reading next time.

     

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  36.  
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    Eugene (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 11:59am

    Re:

    From a business standpoint though, it makes more sense to side with the government that exists than the government that's just a twinkle in the peoples' eye. At least for now.

    And as long as the new regime isn't psychotic, they can always timidly claim forcible coercion.

     

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  37.  
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    Revi (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 12:27pm

    Re: Re: The downside is...

    So when the US set it up, all the terrorists need to do to shut down the whole country's economy is to score a few bot-nets and attack the key infrastructure? So who's not thinking things through?

     

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  38.  
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    vastrightwing, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 12:33pm

    First hand knowledge

    I have first hand knowledge of a company who based all their servers in Cairo against the advise of several IT professionals. The reason for the advice was this exact scenario. The owner insisted on using the expertise they had in Cairo and now the owner is stuck in Cairo trying to move that equipment somewhere safer. What is going to happen now is that most of the employees in Cairo will no doubt loose their jobs and the whole data center will be moved to a safer location: not Egypt. So not only will companies who depend on the internet be affected, but many local professionals will be without jobs right now and going forward because any world wide company that has any sort of IT infrastructure in Egypt will no longer be keeping any servers in that country. If you are an Egyptian IT professional, I'm sorry. Perhaps you should move where all your equipment is moving.

     

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  39.  
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    m3mnoch (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 3:27pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    you're taking a 10-year view on their internet getting shut off for a week?

    uh... okay.

    m3mnoch.

     

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  40.  
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    monkyyy, Feb 1st, 2011 @ 6:06pm

    Re: Re:

    well at this point the military has separated from the government(waiting to take power? or the higherups just ignoring orders), and police are killing a few people and its hard to say everyone was an accident with to much tear gas or a good shot with a rubber bullet to someone to weak to take it

    and that was what we know before the internet was completely down

     

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  41.  
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    bdhoro (profile), Feb 1st, 2011 @ 9:11pm

    All the eggs...

    It's a nice reminder not to put all your eggs in one basket.

    I realized today that the downfall of cable packages puts individuals in a similar situation. The cable goes out and you realize you have no phones, no internet, and no tv. Luckily my cellphone is from a different company but what if I had Verizon for all 4 means of communication?

     

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  42.  
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    vastrightwing, Feb 2nd, 2011 @ 8:20am

    Re: All the eggs

    Couldn't agree more. This even goes to the "too big to fail" argument. When a single entity owns or controls too much of a critical infrastructure of any kind, a disaster is just waiting to happen. Like the company who had all of their IT infrastructure in Egypt, this was a disaster just waiting to happen. Even if Egypt didn't purposely cut the cord, just having all of your infrastructure in one place is not a good idea even under the best conditions.

     

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