Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Internet in Burma, accessibility and navigation freedom

Teahouse in Mandalay with free internet access
The first time I came to Burma, at the end of 2002, using the internet was basically impossible all over the country. The best thing one could hope for was sending an email, not from one's own account but from the private address of the owners of a couple of shops in Rangoon, and only from there. 
At the beginning of 2013 the situation is very different. The new laws regarding press freedom and censorship have affected the web as well. Now in the big cities it is possible to find a wifi hotspot in pretty much every hotel and cafe. At Mandalay and Pagan I happened to go to some teahouses (places that, as far as the level of sophistication is concerned, can be compared to the Italian "osterie" of the '50s) that offer free wifi access. Some friends who came here a couple of years back told me that the connections were terribly slow. Now even that barrier has been torn down, at least in part and in some places. 
However, the nicest aspect of the matter is the navigation freedom.
I haven't come across any blocked or censored site yet. I was able to access every social network and blog I tried to visit. Considering that the political system in Burma, despite the changes, is still dictatorial and that only a couple of years ago every newspaper had to submit any article to the filter of the government censorship, this is very good news. 
In order to be convinced of that one only has to make a comparison with neighboring China where, in spite of the very advanced technological level, Facebook, Twitter, Blogger and Wordpress remain unaccessible. Some say that in order to ease the grip on the press the Burmese junta decided to switch to the Chinese soft censorship system. Well, when it comes to the internet I guess that the who-has-to-adopt-whose-system mechanism should be totally redesigned.

Here are the photos of two more teahouses in Pagan with free internet access:

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