Hong Kong and China: Days without internet and the world is not flat

Because of the earthquake in southern sea of Taiwan on 26 of December, 2006, two major internet cables in the Pacific Ocean have been broken (details see Andrew Lih). Hong Kong is a major affected areas and many bloggers and internet users are forced to live through a few days without internet at year end.

However, the issue at stake is much more than not able to go online, there are more reflections from bloggers concerning our modern life and internet business and governance.

Mo's notebook points out the reason why Hong Kong had suffered more than many other areas (including mainland China) is related with the monopoly of telecommunication business:

查實這次大癱瘓的教訓是什麼?那就是一家獨大會累死香港。

大家數一數手指,到底香港還剩什麼外資ISP?就算NTT,主力也是企業客,沒有送給PCCW的住家客,就只有日本籍顧客,以及少數使用static IP的客。對中小企,根本只有很少的外資ISP可以選,有都比較貴。

而本土ISP,光纖一窩蜂聚在東北亞,外資ISP尚會平均一些,結果除左鍾意用慢線的i-Cable,其餘攬住一齊死,真係玩死人。

不要將所有雞蛋放在同一籃子裡,才是公平競爭法的真義。

So what did we learn from the crippled internet lines? Hong Kong would be ruined by monopoly of a single company.

Let's count, how many foreign ISP companies we have in Hong Kong? Let's count NTT, its major clients are corporate, and it does not provide any domestic service, at most, it only reaches some Japanese clients and a few static IP client. For samll corporates, they only have a few foreign ISP providers to select from, and they are usually more expensive.

As for local ISP, their lines all go through northeast Asia, foreign ISP are more evenly distributed. In the end, only I-Cable, the slowest line is working now, all other lines are dead, and all the customers are fooled.

Don't put all the eggs into a basket, this is the truth of fair competition.

Yin also releases how passive the internet users are in this digital world:

我們剛在本月中被《時代雜誌》選為本年度的風雲人物,何等諷刺。人們常慶幸自己生於資訊年代,享受前所未有的通訊便利,甚至發揮個人前所未有的影響力。

然而,我們--本年度的風雲人物--是很被動的。我們依賴的,是海底的光纖電纜、電腦、電力……這一切,其實不全然在我們掌握之中。

We (bloggers) have just been selected by the Times as the person of the year, how ironic. We also celebrate the fact that we are in this information age and enjoy the most convenient communication, to the extend that an individual can have the unprecendent influence to the world.

However, we–the person of the year–are so passive. We are depending on the internet lines under the sea, the computer, the electricity… all these are not under our control.

While Duke aka expresses how internet has dominated one's life Charles Mok finds the disruption as a great opportunity for ordinary netizens to take a leave from the computer.

Duke aka:

斷纜令人討厭死了,對我的工作和生活做成的麻煩也夠大了。遊戲玩樂的且不說,我身邊的最清醒最悶蛋最勤勞的朋友、同事也一樣叫苦連天,而且不斷嘗試登上 MSN。我收不到客戶的電郵,我發給客戶的電郵他們也收不到,我要改用IDD打長途電話發傳真,既花錢又麻煩。周未想約一個飯局,要花的功夫也增加了。現在呀,就是學生做家課也要上網。

I really hate the broken line and it disrupted my life so much. No to mention cutting off from internet game, even my most hardworking and boring friends, they were complaining and had been trying to log in their MSN. I couldn't receive my clients’ e-mail, and they could receive mine. I had to shift to IDD and fax, it was a lot of troubles and expensive. I had to spend more time and effort in arranging the weekend gathering. Nowadays, even students’ homeworks have to be done online.

Charles Mok:

「幸好」今天只是聖誕與新年之間三個工作天之第一日,很多人都在放假期間,但對在這段時間仍必須倚賴網絡通訊甚至傳送實時指令的公司及企業,這些日子,真不易過;對一般的網民而言,這也許是個機會,被「逼」去找別的玩意。

“Luckily” today is the first working day between Christmas and New Year Holiday, many people are still in holiday. For those companies and corporates that have to depend on the internet for simultaneous decision in this period, they must have very difficult time. However, to ordinary netizens, this can be a chance to “force” themselves for doing some other interesting thing.

While in Mainland China Keso has some revelations from the incident that the world is not as flat as it seems to be.

天灾也好,人祸也罢,无非再次证明,世界从来没像一些人想象的那么平。

一个变平的世界听上去当然不错,想想土地可以大面积机械化耕种和收割,想想公路铁路不用修那么多涵洞和桥梁,想想可能的巨大经济效益,的确很美。但是,在涨价等问题上高叫“与世界接轨”的同时,有时候我们确实需要一个坑坑洼洼的硌涩世界,来掩护自己,这种硌涩,官方说法叫“中国特色”。

本来,大家都以为,最平的地方就是互联网。网线一连,世界在我指尖。但后来就慢慢发现,越是搞互联网的人,越是希望互联网不那么平,不平甚至成了一种独一无二的竞争力。那些认真地以为世界很平的跨国公司,在输了一轮又一轮之后,误以为把服务器搬到中国就可以让世界最终变平。这种想法的天真程度,并不在“世界是平的”之下。他们输都不知道输在什么地方。

断掉的海缆,只是断开了我们跟部分世界的物理连接,这种断开,在时间上是有限的,在损失上也是可计算的。但以为有了1.23亿网民,就可以坦然地将中国互联网孤岛化,就可以永久性断开与世界的联系,则是一种更大的危险。

No matter whether it is natural disaster or man made disaster, it proves that the world is not as flat as some people's imagination.

A flattened world sounds good, when we imagined that the flat land could be cultivated by machine, when we imagined that roads and rails we didn't need to build so many bridges and tunnels, when we imagined the grand economic utility, such world was really beautiful. However, when we chant “connecting with the world” regarding issue like inflation, we sometimes also want an uneven and bumpy world to cover up ourselves, such bumpiness, in official term is “Chinese character”.

At first, people thought that the flattest land is the internet. The whole world is connected through fingers via the net. Slowly we find out that, those who are more into internet, they wish the internet land not to be as flat. Being uneven becomes a distinctive competitiveness. Those transnational corporates which seriously believe that the world is flat have lost one round after another round. They think by moving the server to China can flatten the world. Such thought is more naive than the belief that “the world is flat”. They don't even know why they have lost.

The broken sea line only cut off the physical connection with other part of the world. Such cut off is temporary and the damage can be measured. However, the belief that, with 123 millions netizens, China internet would become an isolated island and cut off permanently from the world, is far more danger.

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