Are Beijing ISPs Cutting Internet in Run-Up to China Leadership Handover?

C. Custer
10:45 am on Nov 1, 2012

This morning we’ve spotted some interesting reports from a few of Twitter’s Beijing denizens: internet connections are acting weird. For example, Jeremiah of Jottings from the Granite Studio and reports that his ISP (Great Wall Broadband) is planning to just shut down for a few weeks:

And NPR’s Louisa Lim writes:

Most people, it seems, are still connecting with no problem and haven’t gotten any weird notifications from their ISPs. But another Beijing friend did says that his internet is impossible to use this morning and his VPN wasn’t functioning either. And some China-based redditors yesterday complained that generally-available (if throttled) Google services like Gmail have stopped functioning.

Is this another internet crackdown in progress? It’s too early to say yet, and it’s important to stress that right now this appears to only be the case for a few people. Please do not re-blog this with the headline “Chinese Government Disconnects Internet!” The speculation is that the ISPs (perhaps at the direction of the government, perhaps not) could be battening down the hatches in preparation for the 18th Party Congress, during which China’s current leaders will step down to make way for the new generation of leaders.

Cutting off the web would be an extreme reaction, but a shutdown of major websites and ISPs during a major political event wouldn’t be unprecedented. June 4th — the anniversary of the government’s bloody crackdown on Tiananmen protesters in 1989 — is referred to jokingly by some net users as “Internet maintenance day” due to the fact that many websites and services seem to pick that particular day each year for scheduled maintenance. And following the Xinjiang riots, internet access in that province was severely curtailed for months. Since the government seems to be taking security insanely seriously this go-round, it’s not unreasonable to suspect they might take steps to lock down the internet a bit, too.

On the other hand, I can’t imagine a total shutdown of the internet could really be in the cards. If nothing else, the economic losses of taking even Beijing off the grid for a week or two would be massive. And that’s before you even take into account what millions of angry weibo addicts are going to do to fill their time if they can’t access the web at all.

So how about it, Beijing-based readers? Has your internet been acting funny recently? Gotten any strange notifications from your ISP? Let us know what you’re seeing in the comments.

[Image source]

  • Katy

    I’m a teacher in Southern China (Nanning, Guangxi). I’ve experienced limited access to the internet this week and so have the other teachers at GXU. I haven’t asked my students though… It might not be related but access has been unusual, even for here.

  • Min

    Yes. Same here. Bad thing happening.

  • KL

    BJ, Gmail sluggish or half dead, Google in ICU, foreign sites slow. May be 20-30% slower-nasty than usual.

  • jin

    Both way connections have been affected, not only outbound. I am out of the GFW, and recently having problem accessing Chinese websites. :(

  • moop

    yeah, . i am having lots of problems with the internet too. i am using founder.方正. really flaky for the last week or two

  • BMS

    gmail, google, and are basically inaccessible from my residence in beijing, but chinese sites operating without problem. But in my office, these sites are working properly. this would support the idea that ISPs are tinkering w/ foreign sites in anticipation of 18 da.

  • Maxim

    My Internet and VPN have certainly acted up over the past few days.. can hardly get any work done here in Beijing! :-/

  • nickinchina

    No access to any Google products in Beijing.

    VPN cannot connect either.

  • Jeremy

    VPN barely works. At all. Thought I was losing it, but apparently this is rapidly becoming the norm.

  • Beijinger

    Beijing resident. Home connections down for 2nd day in a row now. No Internet at all.

  • Muthu

    Yes, all fucked up. This sucks.

  • YN

    Same here in Yunnan. Internet almost crawling to a stop. VPN doesn’t help other. It seems to be isolated to websites outside China. Taobao is still as fast as ever.

  • Cheeeeese

    My friend in Beijing says that his internet in the whole neighbourhood where he lives hasn’t been working at all for the last few days, only just tonight it has been fixed.

  • Nick

    Same in Shanghai, Gmail is very slow now and keeps disconnecting, the internet is generally extremely slow. Had the engineer come over from the ISP to fix it after I complained, he played with it for a while, made a call and then the internet was working at normal speeds again, then the next day it was back to being impossible to use. It’s a joke!

  • matt

    Same problem for me here in Beijing. Foreign sites are incredibly slow and Gmail and Google are hardly working at all. Chinese sites are fine though. It’ll probably return to normal in a couple of weeks…

  • Chaigrl

    Using ChinaUnicom here in Beijing and it has been awful for the past 1-2 weeks. Sites won’t load and I can’t get onto my VPN either. Sucks!!

  • Long

    yup. SH got affected too..

  • jd

    Beijing-ChinaUnicom. Slow for the last week, VPN’s won’t connect today and all foreign websites load only after a few minutes-if at all. Chinese sites load just fine.

  • C. Custer

    Hey guys, thanks for all the comments. We’d like to do a follow-up story on this, so we have set up a little questionnaire here to collect information about what your internet is doing. It would be great if you would help us out by filling it out (it just takes a second) and passing it along to your friends and coworkers in China.

    If you can’t access that; don’t worry, we’ll also have a weibo poll online sometime tomorrow AM Beijing time with the same question for you. Thanks!

  • Kevin

    I was surprised that that Google Docs link actually loaded, but it timed out after pressing ‘submit’, and trying to reload the page also times out. I’ll fill in the Weibo survey when you post it.

  • C. Custer

    The weibo survey is here: thanks all!

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