Major US internet provider in Russia cuts service there, citing ‘unprovoked invasion of Ukraine’

“Our goal is not to hurt anyone. It’s just to not allow the Russian government to have another tool in their war chest,” Schaeffer said in an interview with The Washington Post.

Cogent, based in Washington, D.C., is one of the world’s largest providers of what’s known as the Internet Backbone – roughly comparable to the Interstate Highway system, providing the primary conduit for data streams which local businesses then route to individual estates. Schaeffer said Cogent’s networks carry about a quarter of global internet traffic. Cogent has several dozen customers in Russia, many of whom, like state-owned telecommunications giant Rostelecom, are close to the government.

Russia, like most countries, is connected to the world by several backbone providers, but Cogent is one of the biggest. The company began terminating its Russian companies at noon on Friday, but was doing so gradually. Some customers have requested a delay of up to several days while they find other internet sources, Schaeffer said, and the company is trying to accommodate those requests.

“We’re pretty confident that we’re not interfering with anyone’s ability to get information,” he said, while acknowledging the likelihood of slowdowns and other disruptions with Russia.

In a letter sent Thursday to one of Cogent’s Russian customers and obtained by The Washington Post, the company wrote, “In light of the unwarranted and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, Cogent is terminating all your services from 5 p.m. GMT on March 4. 2022. The economic sanctions put in place following the invasion and the increasingly uncertain security situation do not allow Cogent to continue to serve you. All ports and IP address space provided by Cogent will be reclaimed from the date of termination.

Ukrainian officials have pressured US internet companies to cut services from Russia and also asked ICANN, the California-based nonprofit group that oversees aspects of internet functionality in the world, to suspend the main Russian Internet domain, .ru. On Wednesday, ICANN denied the request.

While Ukraine’s calls to restrict online sources of Russian government propaganda have garnered widespread sympathy and action from key US companies, the effort to cut Russia off from the internet in its together has generated significant backlash from digital rights advocates. They argue that isolating Russians from online services — and especially social media — deprives them of access to information about the war in Ukraine, leaving government-controlled media as the only source of information.

“This decision by Cogent is misguided. Cutting the Russian people off from the global internet harms those who seek and share the truth,” tweeted Rebecca MacKinnon, vice president of the foundation that hosts Wikipedia. “Including many Wikipedians who contribute to the page about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite government threats.”

News of Cogent’s impending action began to spread Thursday after Mikhail Klimarev, executive director of the Internet Protection Society, which champions digital freedoms in Russia, posted a copy of Cogent Termination Letter to a Russian customer on his Telegram channel.

“Very bad news,” Klimarev wrote in his Telegram post. “I’ll be happy if it’s not confirmed.”

But it soon did. Telecommunications analysts were closely watching events on Friday to see how much Cogent’s action was affecting internet service in Russia. Doug Madory, director of internet analytics for web monitoring firm Kentik, wrote in a blog post“A backbone operator disconnecting its customers in a country the size of Russia is unprecedented in Internet history.”

Other U.S. backbone providers have debated cutting off Russian customers in recent days, and any follow-up to Cogent’s example would amplify the impact.

Lumen Technologies, another major connection for Rostelecom, declined to say whether it could do so. But he said he was not accepting new Russian business.

“Lumen has stopped selling all new products and services to Russian-based companies and non-Russian companies where services will be provided in Russia,” the company said, adding that it had terminated an agreement to provide services. services to a Russian Financial Institution.

Network security researcher Barrett Lyon said Cogent’s decision alone would immediately affect traffic from North America, causing connections to lag across the Atlantic, especially video. Russians trying to stream video from the US should see the deterioration first.

“Cogent is generally considered a lower-cost networking option. As a result, they end up carrying a lot of traffic for low-cost video and packets,” Lyon said. “This traffic will reconverge to other networks and redistribute, causing huge network load on networks ready to carry traffic for Rostelecom.”

As of Friday morning, Cogent had direct connections to more than 6,000 network blocks, or large chunks of Internet addresses, operated by Rostelecom, one of the largest networks in the United States.

Earlier on Friday, as Rostelecom announced its fourth quarter results, it said it would refrain from projecting future results due to uncertainty over the conflict in Ukraine.

This is a developing story. Please check for updates.

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