Thailand suffered a major Internet outage on Saturday, with officials blaming Google for unscheduled maintenance that knocked the much of the country offline intermittently throughout the afternoon into the night.
The outage started with fixed line provider 3BB, then spread to TOT and AIS, starting from around noon until midnight.
No explanations from officials were forthcoming. The closest thing resembling an official statement was a tweet from NBTC Secretary-General Takorn Tantasit containing a letter from 3BB CEO Yodchai Asavathongchai, who blamed Google for unscheduled maintenance. The letter was duly circulated through mainstream media.
However, that explanation raised more questions than answers.
The 3BB letter was ridiculed on social media, as YouTube and Google were both entirely accessible via VPN. Also, few found it credible that Google could be so incompetent as to knock out connectivity for half a day. Nor did Google maintenance explain why at 19:50 AIS international connectivity was briefly totally lost, not just to Google and YouTube.
Elsewhere there were reports of someone digging up the road and severing a fiber-optic cable in the south, though that could not be independently verified.
Perhaps more telling was a cryptic tweet from AIS Fibre boss Saran Phalopakarn, who simply said, “I sense a great disturbance in the force,” without any proper explanation.
One possible explanation could be that 3BB and TOT were simply trying, in a ham-fisted way, to comply with recent content restriction orders from NBTC Secretary-General Takorn Tatasit. Two weeks ago, Takorn gave ISPs and IIGs until April 30 to clean up their act and block all content deemed “Lese-Majeste” or risk having their licenses not renewed. It might have been simply that.
The total lack of any credible statement by any official or company (Takorn’s tweet and 3BB’s letter blaming Google would hardly count as a credible statement) suggests that there was more to the outage than meets the eye, and that people who know are keeping silent to prevent themselves being exiled.
This event, and the silence around it, reminds one of the time when Facebook went offline and officials all went quiet. Later, Telenor Asia spokesperson Tor Odland released a statement confirming that the outage was the result of an order from the junta to censor Facebook. The end result was that nothing changed and Odland had to leave the country.
Dtac once suffered an outage in January 2012 due to a fire and a car crash taking out its two redundant fiber links in quick succession, but at least there was an explanation, albeit a somewhat odd one.
What many are dying to know is whether this was just the ISPs trying to censor something in compliance with the NBTC order and failing miserably, or if it was a test run of the fabled Single Gateway, a.k.a. the great firewall of Thailand – the project the Prime Minister dismissed as a clerical error despite four published prime ministerial orders expediting it.
It is unlikely that anyone will know what happened to the internet on May 6. Perhaps the real question is whether this incident will hinder the government’s efforts to entice investors to Digital Park Thailand. Perhaps not – there’s always a chance that businesses are now used to military strongmen throwing tantrums now and then, and are resigned to it as long as it doesn’t happen too often.