Internet service in Kazakhstan was disrupted this week as thousands took to the streets in protest over a rise in energy prices. The internet was partially restored on Wednesday but there is still evidence of significant disruption.
Both Netblocks and Cloudflare reported significant internet shutdowns in the country on Tuesday evening after protests began in the western town of Zhanaozen.
Alp Toker, director of NetBlocks, told ZDNet that they have been tracking the disruptions since their onset on Tuesday. NetBlocks found that initially, mobile services and some fixed lines were affected before there was a country-wide blackout around 5 pm on Wednesday affecting all connectivity in the country.
"What's striking here is the rapid deployment of internet restrictions at national scale, effectively resulting in an information vacuum both inside and outside the country. This has made it difficult to get a clear picture of what is happening on the ground in Kazakhstan as political instability spirals," Toker said.
"In [the] past we've document[ed] internet disruptions in Kazakhstan during elections and protests, but the severity here is markedly on a different scale," Toker added.
NetBlocks released multiple graphs showing that internet service through mobile providers like Kcell, Beeline, and Tele2 was still significantly disrupted on Wednesday as the government responded forcefully to the protests. Cloudflare found that the largest telecommunication company in the country, Kaz Telecom, was also affected.
Many noted that an internet blackout of this scale would mean banks, businesses, and many other daily functions would struggle to continue. Cloudflare explained that Kazakhstan is a country where mobile "represents something like 75% of Internet traffic."
NetBlocks said this kind of internet disruption "affects connectivity at the network layer and cannot always be worked around with the use of circumvention software or VPNs." The blackouts caused everyone outside of Kazakhstan to lose access to any websites and services hosted in Kazakhstan, including government and news websites.
The internet watchdog added that Kazakhstan's leaders have a history of using internet restrictions to control protests. NetBlocks tracked Kazakhstan internet blackouts during elections and during certain holidays.
The Associated Press reported on Wednesday that protesters set both the presidential residence and the Almaty mayor's office on fire as unrest evolved from protests about the price of liquefied petroleum gas to nationwide demonstrations against the ruling party, which has been in power since the country gained independence in 1991.
The government resigned on Wednesday but President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev said all officials would remain in their roles until replacements are found.
Cloudflare noted that it is becoming increasingly common for dictators facing protests to shut down the entire country's internet as a way to quell outrage and limit the ability of protesters in different towns to communicate. This was done most recently by the leaders of Sudan and Myanmar as they faced mass protests.