Rumors raged Wednesday morning when customers of Cambodia’s most popular Internet service provider, Vietnamese-owned Metfone, could not access social networking site Facebook for several hours, leading some to believe that nefarious intentions were at work.
Viettel, which counts Metfone among its subsidiaries and is wholly owned by the Vietnamese military, did not respond to questions by email and officials could not be reached by phone to explain the lack of service.
The Facebook access problem comes shortly after the July 28 national election during which the opposition CNRP used online media to disseminate their views while the national Khmer-language print and broadcast media focused solely on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s long-ruling CPP.
The social networking site was instrumental in mobilizing support for the opposition among Cambodia’s Internet savvy youth, which has claimed victory in the election alongside the ruling CPP.
Soth Vandy, a Metfone call center agent in Phnom Penh, said access had to be cut off for about four to five hours to allow for unspecified upgrades.
“I received information from the upper level yesterday that Facebook will be blocked today because the company needs to update the Internet system,” said Mr. Vandy, who could not explain why the work affected Facebook only.
Lay Marivo, deputy director of the Telecom Regulator of Cambodia, said he had no idea that access to Facebook via Metfone was temporarily down.
Facebook did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
With most traditional media outlets either owned by or aligned with the CPP, opposition supporters “are able to receive information from Facebook and the radio only,” said Kong Mas, who heads the CNRP’s social media campaign.
“It’s an important factor for sending information to supporters in the cities and the provinces,” Mr. Mas said, adding that he was unaware of any difficulties accessing Facebook via Metfone on Wednesday morning.
Last week, Vietnam announced a new law due to take effect September 1 that bans the sharing of any information other than original content from individuals via blogs and social media such as Facebook, according to media reports.
In response, the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi issued a statement on Tuesday to say that the ban appeared to contravene Vietnam’s human rights obligations.