The Internet in Chin State
07 May 2011: The number of Internet cafes set up in towns across Chin State has been on the increase in recent years although the electricity provided by the local authorities still remains highly ‘limited and unreliable’.
At least 30 high street cybercafés are currently opened to provide Internet access to the public in major towns, with 15 in Hakha, 5 each in Tedim and Falam, 4 in Thantlang, and 1 in Tonzang, according to Chinland Guardian’s sources.
However, there is no public internet access available in Mindat, Kanpetlet and Paletwa towns in southern parts of Chin State, except for the one at an Anglican Bishop Office in Paletwa, which is meant for office use only.
Sources claim that there is at least one Internet cafe open to public in Matupi town, reportedly set up since 2007.
Public Internet Access
In Chin State, public access to Internet was first made possible in the mid 2000s. Since 2006, Internet cafes were set up under the direct control of the military authorities in Chin State, according to Khonumthung News.
A travel diary posted on www.myanmar2day.com by an individual identified as Bamarlay noted: “The first time I travelled to Hakha was in 2004, December. It was cold, dark and wet. The city was constantly under blackout, and there was no internet connection.”
The Burmese traveller said that Internet was still unheard of for most people in May 2005 and that one internet cafe was opened in 2007 in Hakha, the capital of Chin State.
Military-monitored Internet has been used in government offices in Chin State since the early 2000s and a public Internet with very limited access was believed to be first available in Hakha in late 2005, according to other sources.
In Hakha, all of the Internet Cafes are using an ADSL (asymmetric digital subscriber line) service, a type of broadband communications technology that gives faster connection speed, with only one shop using an IP-Star Internet connection, according to one of the local Internet Cafes owners.
It was only in 2002 that people in Burma, especially in Rangoon and Mandalay, got access to the Internet, provided by Bagan Cyber Tech, the first and only Internet service provider in Burma, although Myanmar Post and Telecommunication Ministry (MPT) had introduced a dial-up Internet service in 1999, with customers mainly from business groups and government ministries.
Bagan Cyber Tech also introduced IP-Star Internet connection in 2003.
Problems with government-run electricity have been no better, according to local Internet owners.
“We have electricity twice a week at night and its power is not strong enough to run a machine. So all of the cybercafés have got to have an electricity generator day and night,” an Internet Cafe owner from Hakha told Chinland Guardian.
Another local from Thantlang Town said the electricity, although the monthly bill is paid, is not usable for running a machine, adding: “It is not regular and it is on only twice a week at night.”
Bamarlay also highlighted the experience during the second trip made to Hakha in May 2005 that the blackout was worse then, with no electricity for the whole city at all for the whole day.
In Hakha, one gallon of diesel used for running an electric generator costs 5,300 kyats.
Fee and Connection
An hourly fee for using Internet is charged differently in Chin State, with only 5,00 kyats in Tedim, 1,000 in Tonzang and Thantlang, and between 500 and 1,000 in Falam, and Hakha.
Sources revealed that local internet users were charged around 3,000 to 4,000 kyats per hour when Internet cafes were first set up in late 2006.
Most of the cybercafé owners stressed that the amount of fees charged for using Internet depends mainly on the cost of fuel in towns.
In 2007, the Internet connection speed was painfully slow, and the cost was 2,000 kyats per hour while a normal fee in Rangoon was only 400 kyats an hour at that time, according to Bamarlay, who added: “Well, at least you are connected now.”
There were reports of Internet connections being interrupted or cut off across the country during Burma’s recent elections in 2010.
With an increasing number of Chin people migrating into other countries, the Internet technology has dramatically attracted local users to keep in touch with family members, relatives and friends abroad.
Quite often, local internet users in Chin State faced new restriction and warning against visiting any anti-government websites and sending political emails or letters out.
A pastor from southern parts of Chin State, Rev. Shwekey Hoipang, currently based in the UK, said: “It is good that we now have internet services in Chin State. However, people in the south still have utmost difficulties in communication as there are only one or two Internet cafes for thousands of people in hundreds of villages.”
It is estimated that Chin State has a total population of about 502,683, with 12 towns and 1,353 villages, 472 village tracts in nine townships, according to statistics by Ministry of Home Affairs in December 2004.
Chin State has been isolated and cut off communications from the outside world for decades. Till today, no tourists have been allowed to travel into the mountainous northwestern state of Burma, without a special permit to be obtained from the military authorities.
Van Biak Thang