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Bypassing the Internet Kill Switch

by Jeremy L. Gaddis on January 30, 2011 · 3 comments

in Networking

Nearly 100 years ago, in the middle of the Atlantic, Jack Phillips began sending out CQD, the international distress signal, over wireless. Phillips was a wireless operator aboard the RMS Titantic which had struck an iceberg a couple of hours earlier. Since then, radio has been responsible for saving countless lives and providing information and news to the world.

Thursday, the Mubarak regime in Egypt recently ordered an effective shutdown of the country’s Internet access. Renesys witnessed the withdrawal of approximately 3500 routes from the global BGP table and BGPmon concluded that “88% of the ‘Egyptian Internet’ has fallen of the Internet” (sic).

Back in the United States, the “kill switch” bill has been revived and should be heading back to a Senate committee very soon. Interesting timing, to say the least.

Since the removal of Egypt from the Internet, I’ve heard many folks discussing alternative means of communications should the same thing ever happen here (USA). There’s been talk of dial-up, UUCP, and Fidonet. One thing I haven’t heard mentioned — much — is amateur radio.

For right about 100 years, amateur radio operators around the world have been communicating with each other. Today, there are several different modes of communicating in use at any moment in time: Morse Code, voice, television, and several digital modes.

Amateur radio does not rely on terrestrial facilities that quickly become overloaded or fail just when they are needed the most. In fact, amateur radio operators have stepped up several times to provide emergency communications when those commercial systems have failed:

“The largest disaster response by U.S. amateur radio operators was during Hurricane Katrina which first made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane went through Miami, Florida on August 25, 2005, eventually strengthening to Category 5. More than a thousand ham operators from all over the U.S. converged on the Gulf Coast in an effort to provide emergency communications assistance. Subsequent Congressional hearings highlighted the Amateur Radio response as one of the few examples of what went right in the disaster relief effort.” –Wikipedia

If the proposed “kill switch” legislation becomes law and you really want to ensure your ability to communicate should that switch ever be “flipped”, then you need to invest a bit of time into obtaining an amateur radio license.

Obtaining a license is easy. If you’re one of the “networkers” who read this site, you’ve likely already studied and prepared for much more difficult tests. You can purchase study guides online, prepare on your own time (the tests are pretty basic), and find a location near you where tests are administered.

A Technician license will allow you to communicate on frequencies above 50 MHz, which is fine for “local” communications. Passing the test for the “General” license will give you access to the HF bands, opening up the ability to communicate with other operators in hundreds of countries around the world, using nothing more than a radio transceiver and rooftop antenna.

I received my first license when I was 14 or 15 and climbed up on the roof when my parents were gone to erect a wire antenna. I quickly made contacts with other amateur radio operators in the majority of the United States as well as folks in several other countries. I don’t get on the radio much anymore, but I do still have two transceivers here at home and one that I keep in my truck at all times.

If or when the government flips the “kill switch”, I’ll be firing those radios back up. When your Internet connection goes down, your landline is cut off, and the cellular towers are overloaded, you won’t be able to access Twitter or Facebook, but you WILL be able to communicate and get your message out. Somewhere in Egypt right now is a ham radio operator getting his message out to the rest of the world.

–73 de N9WWV

Photo: retropc (Flickr)

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