Telecommunications in Syria
The Syrian Ministry of Communications retains governmental authority over the internet in Syria.1 Prior to the Syrian civil war, telecommunications in Syria were slowly moving towards liberalization, with a number of licenses awarded and services launched in the Internet service provision market. The initiative reflected the government's change in attitude towards liberalization, following its promise to the European Union to liberalize markets by 2010. All other forms of fixed-line communications are provided by the state owned operator, Syrian Telecom (Syriatel or STE).2
Mobile phones in use in 2009: 11,696,000.4 The mobile operators are Syriatel (http://www.syriatel.sy) and MTN (http://www.mtn.com.sy). There is mobile phone coverage in most parts of Syria providing access to 96% of the population. Call quality ranges from acceptable to poor. Many international calls fail or are less clear over the mobile network compared to the landline network.
Radio: 14 AM, 11 FM, and 1 shortwave stations in 1998. The radio operators are the state owned Syrian Arab Republic Radio and Al-Madina FM, the first private radio station, launched in March 2005.3 Private radio stations cannot transmit news or political content.
Television: There are two television operators: the state owned Syrian Television which operates two domestic networks and a satellite channel, broadcasting in Arabic, English, and French and the private Addounia TV. Private TV stations cannot transmit news or political content. There are no restrictions on the use of satellite receivers and many viewers watch pan-Arab TV stations.3 Roughly two-thirds of Syrian homes have a satellite dish providing access to foreign TV broadcasts.4
There were 4,469,000 Internet users in Syria as of June 2011 for a 19.8% Internet penetration rate.5 Syria ranks 12th out of 14 countries in the Middle East region, just behind Jordan (26.8%) and Lebanon (29.0%) and ahead of Yemen (9.7%) and Iraq (2.8%). Growth in the number of Internet users has been fairly steady since 2005:2
Year Internet users % of population 2000 30,000 0.2% 2002 220,000 1.2% 2005 800,000 4.2% 2009 3,565,000 16.4% 2010 3,935,000 17.7% 2011 4,469,000 19.8%
There were 420 Syrian Internet hosts in 2010, placing Syria 187th out of 231 in the world.4
ADSL service in Syria has been available since 2003.8 However, ADSL is not available in all locations and, where available, the local telco may not have enough ports for immediate activation. Through 2009 broadband Internet access had reached less than 0.2% of the Syrian population.910
The 3G wireless Internet is available in all major cities as well as cities with significant tourism. 3.5G EDGE wireless Internet is available through mobile network operators, SyriaTel and MTN. Wireless Internet is accessed using a USB stick purchased from the mobile operators. In addition, 3G SIM cards for use on mobile phones may be purchased with a data plan. However, only WCDMA phones support data at the moment.
High-speed Internet is also available through many Internet cafes.
ISPs in Syria include:
- View ISP
- SAWA Internet Provider
- Syrian Telecommunications Establishment (STE)
Internet filtering in Syria was found to be pervasive in the political and Internet tools areas, and selective in the social and conflict/security areas by the OpenNet Initiative in August 2009.11 Syria has been on Reporters Without Borders Enemy of the Internet list since 2006 when the list was established.12 In 2009, the Committee to Protect Journalists named Syria number three in a list of the ten worst countries in which to be a blogger, given the arrests, harassment, and restrictions which online writers in Syria have faced.13
Syria has banned websites for political reasons and arrested people accessing them. In addition to filtering a wide range of Web content, the Syrian government monitors Internet use very closely and has detained citizens "for expressing their opinions or reporting information online." Vague and broadly worded laws invite government abuse and have prompted Internet users to engage in self-censoring and self-monitoring to avoid the state's ambiguous grounds for arrest.1114
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) is blocked completely and requires a proxy or Virtual Private Network (VPN) to work around it.16 However, VoIP operators that utilize non-standard Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) ports may function behind Syria's proxy. VPN Access using the Point-to-Point Tunneling Protocol (PPTP) is also blocked.citation needed
Internet cafes, which are wide spread and accessible to the public for a fee, can be used to access blocked sites.17 However, more restrictions have been placed on internet cafes, all public internet centers need operating approval from the security services, are required to keep detailed records of their customers' surfing habits, and people have been arrested after accessing blocked content.18
In November 2012, it was reported that all Internet connectivity between Syria and the outside world appeared to have ceased, as of 29 November 2012. This coincided with reported intense rebel activity inside Syria.19 Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare, reported that three undersea cables in Tartous, Syria and a fourth land cable through Turkey were connecting Syria to the internet prior to the event.20
- "Internet Usage and Marketing Report: Syria", Internet World Stats, 2010
- "BBC Syria country profile", BBC News, 7 August 2012
- "CIA World Factbook: Syria", U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, 24 August 2012
- "Internet Usage in the Middle East", Internet World Stats, 30 June 2011
- Measured between January and June 2011, "Global Download Report", Pando Networks, 22 September 2011
- "Global Download Study", ChartsBin.com. Retrieved 23 September 2011
- "Broadband internet comes to Syria", Syria News Wire, 16 January 2007
- "Worksheet 3: Broadband", Richard Heeks, Google Docs, 16 September 2010
- "Global ICT Statistics on Internet Usage, Mobile, Broadband: 1998-2009", Richard Heeks, ICT4DBlog, 16 September 2010
- "ONI Country Profile: Syria", OpenNet Initiative, August 2009
- "Internet Enemies: Syria", Reporters Without Boarders, March 2011
- "10 Worst Countries to be a Blogger", Committee to Protect Journalists, 30 April 2009
- "Syrian jailed for internet usage". BBC News. 21 June 2004.
- "الغاء الحجب عن موقع "فيسبوك" في سورية (Syrian government abolishes bans on "Facebook" and "YouTube")" (in Arabic). D Press News. 8 February 2011. (English translation)
- "Measuring Global Internet Filtering", Robert Faris and Nart Villeneuve, in Access denied: the practice and policy of global Internet filtering, Ronald Deibert (ed), OpenNet Initiative, 2008
- Institute for War and Peace Reporting (3 June 2008). "Syrian youth break through internet blocks". Retrieved 1 February 2010.
- "Syria tightens control over internet", Phil Sands, The National (Abu Dhabi), 30 September 2008
- Thomson, Iain (29 November 2012). "Syria cuts off internet and mobile communications". The Register. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
- "Internet Blackout in Syria as Airport Shuts Down", Alexander Marquardt, ABC News, 30 November 2012