Economy

Internet blackout across Yemen as Houthis offer excuses

By Nabil Abdullah al-Tamimi in Aden

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In this file photo, a Yemeni man in traditional gear browses the internet at a computer club in Sanaa. [Khaled Fazaa/AFP]

Almost eight million Yemenis have been deprived of internet access for the past six days, as the Iran-backed Houthis (Ansarallah) blame a cut submarine cable for the outage.

The internet outage has disrupted the national economy, causing huge economic losses, two experts told Al-Mashareq, as many in Yemen cast doubt on the Houthis' excuse for the crisis and say corruption and mismanagement were instead to blame.

TeleYemen, the local internet provider controlled by the Houthis, has said the blackout was caused by a submarine cable cut outside of Yemen, in the Gulf of Suez.

"As Houthis control the telecommunications sector, whether directly or indirectly they are responsible for this problem," economist Abdul Aziz Thabet told Al-Mashareq.

The militia had already taken steps to limit Yemenis' access to the internet, including a 130% increase of internet rates, imposition of financial conditions on Wifi internet retailers, and the weakening of the service, he said.

Furthermore, the Houthis' Communications and Information Technology Minister Musfir al-Numeir on December 2nd said that internet usage is "excessive" and should be reduced in Yemen, unlike other countries he has visited where he claims people "only use the internet for emails".

A cut of the submarine cable, as the Houthis claim, would mean suspension of the internet in several countries in the region serviced by that same cable, "but this has only happened in Yemen", said Thabet.

It is more likely that TeleYemen has failed to pay the fees owed to the global internet provider, he said.

If this were true, he added, "it would confirm the corruption and mismanagement of the telecommunications sector by the Houthis".

Ripple effect on economy

Yemen has long struggled to provide proper internet access to its residents "due to its failure to keep up with technological advances in this sector as a result of mismanagement", Studies and Economic Media Centre chairman Mustafa Nasr told Al-Mashareq.

The internet blackout will have a huge negative impact on the national economy, he said, "given that internet services contribute to the gross domestic product and affect all other economic sectors".

"The telecommunications sector is marred by corruption and the monopoly of a state-owned company, while the private sector is not permitted to invest in it," Nasr said.

Private sector telecommunications companies are not permitted to provide 3G and 4G services, he said.

"The only way to improve internet access is by enforcing transparency and allowing all public and private-sector companies to compete to provide better services to citizens," he added.

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