Myanmar Govt Restores Internet Access to Parts of Rakhine, Chin States

By Min Aung Khine 2 September 2019

SITTWE—At midnight on Saturday, internet and data traffic services were resumed in five of the nine townships it was cut from in Rakhine and Chin states—more than two months after the Myanmar government put the ban in place.

The Ministry of Transport and Communications lifted the internet ban in the northern Rakhine townships of Maungdaw, Buthidaung, Rathedaung and Myebon and in neighboring Chin State’s Paletwa Township.

Four townships in Rakhine State—Ponnagyun, Kyauktaw, Mrauk-U and Minbya—remain under an internet shutdown.

“Internet services were resumed in our township today. We are very happy,” said U Sarana, abbot of the Nathataung Monastery in Maungdaw Township. “Previously we had to go to the [Bangladeshi] border to use the internet with a Bangladeshi [phone] line. We are happy that we don’t need to go anywhere and I can browse the internet in my monastery.”

Ko Bu Htan Paing, a Paletwa resident, said he feels like he’s been reconnected to the rest of the world.

“We can read the news now. Without the internet, we knew nothing. We felt as if we were in a different world. I am very happy,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The communications ministry, citing security concerns and the general public interest under Section 77 of the Telecommunications Law, ordered telecom companies to shut down internet services in the townships as of June 21 in the wake of ongoing clashes there between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army (AA).

Section 77 of the Telecommunications Law states that in emergency situations the ministry may, to protect the public interest, direct a licensee to suspend a telecommunications service, to intercept or not to operate any specific form of communication, to obtain necessary information and communications, or temporarily take control of the telecommunications service and telecommunications equipment.

“I heard that internet services were resumed in four townships, including my constituency of Myebon Township, but I haven’t seen the government officially announce it,” said Lower House lawmaker U Pe Than.

“I guess internet services are still shut down in areas where clashes are escalating. That instinct is wrong. Internet service should be made even more available in areas where clashes are escalating,” he added. “Only then will we have accurate news. In fact, internet services should be resumed in all the townships.”

Kyauktaw resident Ko Kyaw Hla Myint said he wanted internet services resumed in his township so he can get on-the-ground reporting in real-time.

Rakhine State government spokesperson U Win Myint said he had not known about the resumption of internet services.

“I saw on Facebook that internet services were resumed. I don’t know exactly. The state government does not have the authority to shut down internet services, it is the authority of the Union government alone,” he said.

Following the internet shutdown, Rakhine State lawmaker U Hla Aung Thein of Minbya Township submitted an urgent proposal to the Rakhine State parliament urging the Union government to resume service.

The state parliament approved his proposal on June 26 but the communications ministry continued its ban.

In a Sept. 1 statement, telecom operator Telenor called the internet resumption a positive development, adding that freedom of expression through access to telecom services should be maintained for humanitarian purposes, especially during times of conflict.

Telenor Myanmar and Telenor Group will continue dialogues with Myanmar authorities and push for the restoration of internet services in the remaining four townships, the statement said.

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