AL-MUKALLA: Businesses, banks and internet cafes in war-torn Yemen have been paralyzed since Jan. 9, when a broken undersea cable in Egypt’s Suez Canal nearly brought down internet services.
The Sanaa-based TeleYemen, the Houthi telecommunications monopoly, said that 80 percent of the internet capacity is down and an international company that runs the cable would fix it by late February.
The impact of the blackout is visible everywhere in Yemen as major companies and banks frantically turn to more expensive and slower internet options.
Thousands of people who make a living selling mobile credits, running internet cafes and other services have lost jobs.
Like many other Yemeni cities and villages, people in the city of Al-Mukalla, the capital of the southeastern province of Hadramout, say that they have never been isolated for such a long time.
Before the blackout, Abdullah’s internet cafe used to be full. Now, just 50 percent of the cafe’s computers are used as the number of visitors has dwindled.
“People are only using stored materials in the computers. The internet is very slow,” the young man told Arab News.
Internet cafes are popular in Yemen due to slow mobile internet services and low internet penetration in a country where most of the people live under the poverty line.
Not far from Abdullah’s cafe, Ahmad Salem, another young man who runs an internet cafe with 21 computers, came up with an idea to offset losses and keep his computers running.
“I stored famous Turkish movies in the computers. So people come here to watch them instead of using the internet. If they have watched all of them, I add new movies,” Salem said, boasting that his cafe is still full despite the blackout.
Daily communications between banks and exchange companies in Hadramout and their headquarters in Sanaa or Aden have been disrupted.
Local bank officials told Arab News that they turned to traditional ways of communications such as using landlines to communicate with their bosses in Sanaa or Aden.
Big exchange companies have not been affected as they depend on expensive satellite providers. But even this option is not available during the blackout. Workers at TeleYemen’s office in Al-Mukalla told Arab News that satellite dishes have been sold due to the big demands during the outage.
Ali Baraj, director of the Ministry of Telecommunications’ Hadramout office, told Arab News that TeleYemen has provided local banks and post offices with the minimum internet capacity required to keep them open.
For years, the internationally recognized government has sought to relocate offices of mobile companies and TeleYemen to the port city of Aden, saying that the Houthis generate millions of dollars annually from internet and mobile services. During the blackout, the government stayed tight-lipped about the problem, leaving Houthis to handle it.
“We are powerless. The telecommunications sector is entirely under Houthi control,” a senior government official told Arab News on condition of anonymity.
The government has recently created Aden Net, an internet provider struggling to cover Aden.
As millions of Yemenis seethe at poor internet services in the country, others saw the outage as a blessing in disguise as it brought them together with their families.
“I am so happy. My children have abandoned their mobiles. We can sit together and talk like never before,” Mohammed Saeed, a honey trader from Al-Mukalla, told Arab News.