• Population: 48,852,000
  • Internet users: 25,000 (2003)
  • Average charge for 20 hours of connection: 33 euros
  • DAI*: 0.17
  • Situation**: serious

Internet connections are very rare in Burma, partly for reasons of poverty but mostly because of the military regime's harsh crackdown on freedom of expression. As in Cuba and North Korea, the Internet frightens the authorities, who keep it out of the hands of their subjects. So it is growing very slowly, with the opening of only a handful of cybercafés and assignment of a few thousand e-mail addresses, all under tight surveillance.

The Internet was introduced in Burma in 2001. There are only two ISPs, one directly controlled by the telecommunications ministry and the other, Bagan Cybertech, by the prime minister's son.

Only a few hundred hand-picked people - regime officials, top military figures and heads of export companies - are allowed access to the Internet. Even for the privileged, this mostly means just e-mail and only for professional reasons. About 20,000 accounts (costing a once-off 40-80 euros for lifetime access) existed by mid-2003. E-mail is strictly filtered by the posts and telecommunications authority MPT and military intelligence, reportedly with a Dans Guardian content filter.

About 25,000 people had access in 2003 to the Myanmar Wide Web, a local intranet set up by the regime and giving access to just a few thousand online publications, mostly on government service or administrative sites permitted by the authorities. Opening a personal Internet account, which must first be approved by the regime, costs 260 euros, while companies must pay 600 euros.

Bagan Cybertech has announced a link-up with the Thai telecom firm Shin Satellite (owned by the family of Thai prime minister Thaskin Shinawarta) to develop a broadband service.

A few cybercafés open

The country's first cybercafé opened in 2002. Two more opened in Rangoon in May 2003. Their servers are provided by Bagan Cybertech but the cybercafés are run by the firms Fortune International Group and May Hka Group. All online activity is under government surveillance and limited to the Myanmar Wide Web. They do not allow use of e-mail systems such as Hotmail and Yahoo! and offer their own e-mail accounts on production of a personal ID and home address. A connection costs 80 eurocents an hour.

First discussion forum

The exiled opposition magazine The Irrawaddy reported that a discussion forum, BaganNet, was launched in 2003 by Bagan Cybertech. Though controlled by the regime, it allows discussion of normally taboo subjects and even one called "Our hero, Gen. Aung San," referring to the murdered independence leader and father of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Participants also discussed the poems of several jailed intellectuals.

Offenders face prison

A 1996 law bans the import, possession or use of a fax machine or modem without official permission. Those who disobey risk up to 15 years in jail, as does anybody who uses the Internet to "undermine the state, law and order, national unity, national culture or the economy." Anyone who creates a link to an unauthorised website also faces a prison sentence.

Online political material has been banned since 20 January 2000 and websites can only be set up with official permission. The rules ban any online material considered by the regime to be harmful to the country's interests and any message that directly or indirectly jeopardises government policies or state security secrets.

The measures aim to prevent people being freely informed and stop them looking at exiled opposition websites, which are very active, with the Free Burma Coalition site, for example, grouping several opposition movements.

New weapon in fight against cybercrime

The telecommunications ministry said in October 2003 it was drafting a law on use of equipment and services that would include setting up a body to fight cybercrime, the Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT), comprising computer experts and government and private sector representatives. Similar bodies operate in many Asian and Western countries, but in Burma it may be used more to hunt down cyber-dissidents than online criminals.

The regime launches e-government

The e-National Task Force, set up by the regime to supervise growth of the Internet, announced a major e-government project in December 2003, involving electronic passports and IDs and online administration and part of a programme launched by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which Burma belongs.


* The DAI (Digital Access Index) has been devised by the International Telecommunications Union to measure the access of a country's inhabitants to information and communication technology. It ranges from 0 (none at all) to 1 (complete access).

** Assessment of the situation in each country (good, middling, difficult, serious) is based on murders, imprisonment or harassment of cyber-dissidents or journalists, censorship of news sites, existence of independent news sites, existence of independent ISPs and deliberately high connection charges.


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