I have had my home Internet access cut off. (I’m uploading this from a café.)
You might be thinking, well, it was just a matter of time. The Chinese government is notorious for not liking what people do on the Internet, after all. I’m not exactly an activist here — I’m too busy complaining about things my own government back home is doing, and my most questionable activities involve using a VPN to access my Facebook and this blog — but still, automated processes and overzealous censors were bound to cut me off sooner or later.
You might be thinking that, but if you were, you’d be entirely wrong.
I haven’t been cut off by the Great Firewall. I’ve been cut off by my wife’s employer, with zero warning and even less consideration. So much for Internet access as a human right. (Not naming and shaming here, because although they can’t fire me, Jenny still loves her job here and we’re hoping to at least have the option of staying on after this year.)
We live on-campus here. We’re across the hall from some of the student dorms, and once or twice a week one of us has to poke our head out the door and remind them to keep down the noise. But our apartment is, for the time we’re here, our private home. Utilities are provided as part of Jenny’s contract. We’ve been here for two years, and in that time we’d been given no indication that our home usage had been impacting on the rest of the network. We had no reason to think it would, as there’s a router inside the apartment, and while it’s part of the same network as the classrooms three floors below, you wouldn’t think that traffic passing through a router up here would cause a bottleneck down there.
Until this week. I received a (very rude) email from the IT tech who’s here on his yearly visit, demanding I cease all network activity from my iMac. As that would mean cutting off our access to television (via iTunes and our Apple tv), I questioned as to why. On being informed of the aforementioned interference, I offered to use our own router (which we use while travelling, due to our regular hotel in Beijing not offering wi-fi) to set up our own network, and to arrange a segregated private connection to the apartment. In the meantime, I shut down a couple of background processes on the iMac that seemed to be using a bit of bandwidth.
I then received an email from the school’s CIO, informing me that due to our “excessive” use of the network, all my devices had been blocked from using it. Needless to say, I’m rather alarmed that this would be considered a first step and not a last resort. I’m also at a loss as to why our normal usage is suddenly a problem when it hasn’t changed appreciably since we arrived here two years ago — surely, if there had been a problem prior to this, we should have been told when it first arose.
In his eagerness to cut me off, he seems to have also blocked Jenny’s work laptop, which caused some major headaches for her at work yesterday morning. How I was now supposed to look for a service provider and arrange our private connection, or how he was supposed to be sure I would receive and be able to reply to his email, I’ve no idea. He’s changed his mind and decided to allow my phone to connect for one weekend, but I don’t see how that’s supposed to make things much better. Jenny is certain (as am I) that it’s a breach of her contract here, and she’s protesting accordingly.
And of course, it’s the Chinese New Year holiday, which means everything here is shut, so it will take a fair amount of time to get things organised. We’re informed it could take until at least next weekend for the telecom companies to even be open so we can go and start making arrangements. In the meanwhile, I can’t do research for my books, contact my friends back home, relax on my Tumblr, much less search for an ISP to rectify the issue, without either going out (in the rain) to one of the minority of Internet cafés that are open (thank goodness Starbucks are open) or chewing through my small (and expensive) phone allowance.
If an ordinary landlord did something like this, for any reason, the tenants’ union would have their guts for garters.