Late Saturday, somewhere in Libya, a blinking light on a wireless router began to pulsate. It was the first time that most of Libya’s citizens were being connected to the rest of the world since Internet access had been killed in March. Over the weekend, data connections began to trickle in and out as the rebels gained on Tripoli.
Far from being fully restored, Libya’s Internet shows the tale of a persistent force of rebels, bent on completely removing Muammar Gaddafi from power and making their voices heard. Just as Internet connectivity was regained Saturday, it disappeared again. There is not much known about exactly what happened during its disappearance, but after several hours, one of Libya’s Internet service providers, Libya Telecommunications & Technology (LTT), regained service. It reappeared, with an ominously scrawling news flash, reading, according to Internet security firm Renesys, “Congratulations, Libya, on emancipation from the rule of the tyrant.”
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While a few people can still access the Internet normally, Renesys says by large it has not been fully functional to most of the Libyan public for quite some time. Depending on where civilians live, Internet access has “been largely blocked for the last three to five months” in Libya. For the vast majority of residents, the only way to connect to the outside world is through a satellite phone or an international dial-up connection – which are slow, expensive, and not viable, everyday solutions.
The news was being reported late Saturday, as Libyan groups discussed the change through Twitter. One Libyan resident tweeted, “Can confirm Internet is on in #Tripoli. Not sure what the catch is,” expressing some trepidation about the stability of the situation. Jim Cowes, the chief technology officer of Renesys, posted on the company blog that “…It became apparent from the Libyan Twitterstream over the last couple days that things were about to heat up in Tripoli.”
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In late January of this year, Egyptian authorities turned off the Internet to prevent activists and protestors from organizing against former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak. Though it was later restored, social media networks such as Twitter and Facebook have been cited as effective tools in helping power the Middle East revolutions. China, which already monitors its Internet quite stringently, went so far as to block news of the uprisings to curtail a possible revolution at home. As the battle for Tripoli rages on, it would seem that the rebels have a new, shiny tool in their arsenal during the most crucial hours at hand: the power to communicate.
Erica Ho is a reporter at TIME. Find her on Twitter at @ericamho and Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.