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Internet service provider Cogent cutting off access to Russian customers

Cogent initially blamed the invasion of Ukraine but later said it was complying with a new EU regulation passed on Tuesday.
Written by Jonathan Greig, Contributor

Cogent Communications -- an internet service provider carrying about 25% of all internet traffic across the globe -- said on Friday it is terminating its service in Russia due to the invasion of Ukraine. 

In a statement to ZDNet, Cogent said it made the decision in order to comply with a new regulation from the European Union that was passed on Tuesday.  

"In response to the invasion of Ukraine, Cogent has terminated its contracts with customers billing out of Russia. Cogent is complying with EU Regulation 2022/350 passed on March 1, 2022, with respect to the blocking of certain media," a company spokesperson said. 

"Cogent is not otherwise restricting or blocking traffic originating from or destined for Russia. Cogent continues to provide services to Ukraine." 

Article 2F of the regulation includes a clause suspending "any broadcasting licence or authorization, transmission and distribution arrangement with the legal persons, entities or bodies" connected to Russia Today's outlets in the UK, Germany, France and Spain. The regulation also applies to Sputnik. 

The news was first reported by told The Washington Post on Friday when Cogent CEO Dave Schaeffer told the newspaper about the decision. In the first edition of the story, no mention of EU Regulation 2022/350 was made. 

Instead, Schaeffer told the newspaper that the company did not want "to hurt anyone" but also did not want to "empower the Russian government to have another tool in their war chest."

Cogent is one of the world's biggest internet "backbone" companies with dozens of customers in Russia, including state-owned telecommunications giant Rostelecom. According to The Washington Post, Cogent has "direct connections to more than 6,000 network blocks, or large chunks of Internet addresses, handled by Rostelecom, one of the largest swaths from the US."

The move will cause slowdowns for Russian internet users, although Cogent is "gradually" terminating Russian companies because they asked for a few days to find other sources for internet. 

According to a letter from the company, the terminations started on Friday, which specifically cites the Russian invasion of Ukraine as the reason why. 

"In light of the unwarranted and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Cogent is terminating all of your services effective at 5 p.m. GMT on March 4, 2022," the letter said. "The economic sanctions put in place as a result of the invasion and the increasingly uncertain security situation make it impossible for Cogent to continue to provide you with service. All Cogent-provided ports and IP address space will be reclaimed as of the termination date."

The decision caused a widespread backlash among advocates who questioned what cutting off the Russian population from the internet would accomplish. 

Rebecca MacKinnon, vice president of Global Advocacy at Wikimedia, explained on Twitter that the move would not actually stop government-backed organizations from launching cyberattacks or spreading disinformation, instead only harming the people searching and providing sources of news and information. 

"Malicious state-sponsored actors seeking to launch cyberattacks against Ukraine and spread disinformation campaigns will have resources & technology to keep doing so," MacKinnon said. "As usual, civil society groups that disagree with the govt and citizens seeking truth are the main victims here."

Cogent joins dozens of major tech companies in shutting off business channels connected to Russia. On Thursday, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) refused a request from Ukraine to revoke Russia's top-level domains (TLD), such as .ru, .рф, and .su along with the nation's associated Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificates.

ICANN president Göran Marby said in a letter to Ukrainian deputy prime minister Mykhailo Fedorov that the globally agreed policies "do not provide for ICANN to take unilateral action to disconnect these domains as you request." 

"You can understand why such a system cannot operate based on requests from one territory or country concerning internal operations within another territory or country. Such a change in the process would have devastating and permanent effects on the trust and utility of this global system," Marby said. 

"As you have said in your letter, your desire is to help users seek reliable information in alternative domain zones and prevent propaganda and disinformation. It is only through broad and unimpeded access to the Internet that citizens can receive reliable information and a diversity of viewpoints. Regardless of the source, ICANN does not control Internet access or content. Within our mission, we maintain neutrality and act in support of the global Internet. Our mission does not extend to taking punitive actions, issuing sanctions, or restricting access against segments of the Internet -- regardless of the provocations. ICANN applies its policies consistently and in alignment with documented processes. To make unilateral changes would erode trust in the multistakeholder model and the policies designed to sustain global Internet interoperability."

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