VPN secure connection concept. Person using Virtual Private Network technology on laptop computer to create encrypted tunnel to remote server on internet to protect data privacy or bypass censorship
Image: NicoElNino/Adobe Stock

It used to be that a government shutting down internet access was an extreme move taken in times of severe upheaval. But the practice has become more and more common – it’s been used during elections, student exams and more.

Sometimes, it’s the whole internet, but more often, and on a longer term basis, it’s blocking certain services.

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But there are steps you can take to get free information if service is affected. And it’s good to plan ahead. Here are five tips to help you stay online during an internet shutdown:

  1. VPNs. Get a good one; one you can trust. You may even need two in case one is successfully blocked itself. Keep in mind that a VPN does not protect privacy. Since the company operating the VPN still sees your data, it only shields traffic from attempts to block it on open wifi.
  2. A mesh network. If the internet is blocked entirely, a VPN might not help. Mesh networks are another workaround, and one that definitely needs pre-planning. Fireside Messenger is an example of a way to communicate with each other by creating a mesh network between the bluetooth and WiFi connections of phones. Of course, these only work where enough devices exist to keep the network going. They are also not any more secure than the internet, so precautions need to be taken.
  3. International SIM cards. If you’re near a border, you may be able to pick up service from a neighboring country.
  4. Sideloading apps. This can help you get around blocks on particular services. This is most useful for Android, where the operating system permits side loading. iPhone jailbreaking is not as useful as it once was. When you’re side loading, remember nobody is checking the apps to make sure they’re legitimate, so be careful what you install.
  5. Satellite content. Someday this might mean services like Starlink, but most often these days, it’s just used to receive content. A service called Knapsack, for instance, broadcasts packets by satellite that can be received on a normal TV dish. You can get news, YouTube videos and such, but it’s only one-way, so no email.

Hat tip to Vittoria Elliott at restofworld.org for excellent info and tips. Hopefully you can avoid shutdowns and blackouts, but if you can’t, these should help.

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