On April 21, several cities and administrative districts across the country reported experiencing internet disruptions.
The disruptions were reported on DeltaTelecom one of the only two companies in Azerbaijan licensed to connect international internet traffic [the second one being AzerTelecom]. Delta Telecom is considered the backbone internet provider in Azerbaijan and handles most of the ISP traffic. It owns a data center and provides hosting services.
One earlier report claimed the disruptions were the result of problems in the internet traffic coming in from Russia. The nature of these problems was not identified. And became clear shortly after, that this was not indeed the cause for disruptions.
According to Osman Gunduz, the head of Azerbaijan Internet Forum, it was the damage to the fiber optic cables connecting Delta Telecom’s second main center and the backbone itself during street excavations. As a result, Delta Telecom’s second main center started experiencing connectivity issues. This resulted in several ISPs and large companies experiencing major internet connectivity disruptions.
The Ministry of Transportation, Communication, and High Technologies (MCHT) is yet to issue a statement. In an interview, with a local online news platform Gafgazinfo the spokesperson Gunel Gozalova said the problem was not the damage caused to existing underground cables but issues with the commercial provider bringing Internet traffic into the country. “As a result of the countrywide quarantine regime during COVID19, many companies shifted their work to an online regime. The same goes for the education system where classes are now conducted in an online format. As a result, the country’s broadband internet network is overloaded. And sometimes, the preferred device installed at people’s homes does not meet currently increased demands.”
The spokesperson assured the ministry is doing its best to meet the spike in demands, working with experts around the clock.
It seems the spokesperson missed the memo [and so did the main news agency APA] from Delta Telecom because according to this media platform, who spoke with the director of the main internet provider [Public Television Channel] Delta Telecom, the disruptions were caused by “cable outage” during maintenance excavation work around one of capital’s automatic telephone exchange [ATS] locations.
As of April 22, Internet users across the country including in the capital continued reporting of weak signal or on-going disruptions in connections.
This is not the first time, major disruptions have been reported across the country.
In November 2015, massive Internet outage caused by a fire at a landline of the major Internet provider “Delta Telecom” left the country disconnected for at least 6 hours. In August 2016, some users experienced problems establishing an internet connection for several hours as a result of problems with Delta-Telecom’s infrastructure or as a result of debts owed by smaller providers to Delta Telecom. In October 2017, the MTCHT announced slow internet traffic across 23 regions due to AzTelekom’s [second government-owned internet provider] maintenance work to improve connectivity. In early July 2018, the country experienced its worst blackout in decades after a fire broke out at the country’s largest power plant.
In addition to accidents, technical, and other maintenance-related disruptions, there are intentional restrictions reported during certain political occasions such as political rallies or international events. In 2016 during the country-wide referendum, Virtual Road documented how authorities generated artiﬁcial internet network congestion within Azerbaijan to prevent access to the websites of both RFE/RL’s Azerbaijan Service and the Voice of America’s Azerbaijani services.
During the Islamic Solidarity Games, there were reports of users having diﬃculties accessing and using Skype, Viber, and WhatsApp. Only after the games were over, the Ministry of Transport, Communications, and High Technologies issued a statement conﬁrming, “Temporary restrictions to telecom services (Skype, Viber, WhatsApp,etc.), [were] imposed in Azerbaijan as part of security measures during the 4th IslamicSolidarity Games.
Opposition activists say internet service sometimes slows down or stops working completely in the hours before rallies are set to begin. Similarly, residents in neighborhoods where rallies often take place, too have experienced connectivity issues for the duration of these events. In response to these disruptions, local ISPs argue that the connectivity issues are directly linked to the number and density of users gathered in one place during that specific time.
And last but not least, the quality of the internet in Azerbaijan lags behind even its closest neighbors. According to the annual Freedom on the Net report, in Azerbaijan, “the fixed broadband market lacks equality between operators. The absence of regulatory reform also inhibits the development of the sector. Osman Gunduz cites Azerbaijan’s underdeveloped infrastructure as a key obstacle toward attaining greater access and higher connection speeds. And in his most recent Facebook post, Gunduz wrote that the recent disruptions attest to existing problems despite the on-going effort invested in setting up stable information infrastructure in the country over the recent years.