Internet shutdown?: PHDI pushing for all wifi to be ‘turned off’ in Bali during Hindu new year, Nyepi but internet blackout not yet confirmed

Pecalang patrol the Bali streets during Nyepi. Photo: Sonny Tumbelaka/AFP

Bali just might be experiencing an island-wide internet shutdown on March 17 in time for the Balinese Hindu New Year and “Day of Silence,” aka Nyepi, if Hindu authorities have their way.

But don’t get too excited about the possible shutdown just yet. Pulling it off would be more convoluted than it sounds, it’s not been confirmed yet, and this year isn’t even the first time that appeals have been made to take Bali offline for the holy day. Calls were made to try and take Bali offline 2017, but the internet was very much still up and running for last year’s Nyepi. 

The Parisada Hindu Dharma Indonesia (PHDI), the country’s leading authority on Hinduism, is appealing to the country’s Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (Kominfo) to cut internet service and data on mobile networks during the Nyepi holiday, which will run from 6am on March 17 to 6am the next day.

Above all else, PHDI says it wants to stop people from taking selfies on the sacred day, when everyone on the island — Hindu or not — is expected to power down. People stay inside, lights are not supposed to be seen from the street (if you’re really Balinese Hindu, you’re not using lights in the first place), and even the island’s international airport is closed for the 24-hour period. Tradition holds that you’re supposed to refrain from physical work as well as travel, while the time should be used for self-reflection.

The age-old practice is guided by the Balinese belief that mythical evil spirits come out on the new year. By hiding, they trick the spirits into thinking Bali is deserted. Pecalang, the traditional Balinese neighborhood security, monitor the streets and make sure everyone is complying. However, of course not everyone, especially the non-Balinese/non-Hindu population are 100 percent following the rules.

PHDI has specifically requested that Kominfo block the internet during the 24-hour holiday this year, though the ministry has not yet confirmed plans to go along with it.

PHDI Chariman I Gusti Ngurah Sudiana says the wifi shutdown appeal is in anticipation of people taking selfies on Nyepi, year 1940 on the Balinese Hindu Saka calendar.

“Therefore, those who take selfies and want to upload them to social media, automatically could not,” Sudiana said on Sunday, as quoted by Tribun Bali.

“We have asked that the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology stop internet service in the Bali area only during Nyepi,” he said.

An official joint appeal with signatures from Bali’s highest ranking officials like Bali Police Insp. Gen. Petrus R. Golose and even the governor, Made Mangku Pastika, was issued on Feb. 15.

In the appeal, it’s written that it’s “hoped” that cellular providers will switch off data on Nyepi.

However, when contacted separately by Republika, Telkomsel Bali and Nusa Tenggara spokesperson Teny Ginaya said that to this point, the Indonesian telecommunications giant has received no directive from the government to switch things off in Bali for the holiday. That said, Telkomsel will comply with any provisions ordered by Kominfo, according to Ginaya.

“Our point is that Telkomsel will follow the government’s policy, especially under Kominfo, like we did with the pre-paid registration policy yesterday,” Republika quoted her as saying in a report released on March 5. 

Meanwhile, CBN, a popular internet service provider in Bali, says they are not sure yet whether their service will be online during Nyepi.

“We are still communicating this with our provider community,” a customer service representative told Coconuts Bali on the phone on Tuesday.

In the circular letter, it was just cellular providers asked to switch off, not ISPs like us, the representative said.

“But we are still not sure,” the rep said.

Biznet, another major provider in Bali had a similar response.

“Up until now we still coordinate with our team about our services during Nyepi Day. We will do our best for all customer, but still obey the regulations set by the goverment [sic],” Biznet Bali Region representative, Willy Unsulangi,  wrote to Coconuts Bali in an email on Tuesday.

While even as of Thursday, provider GlobalXtreme still had no definitive answer.

“Regretfully, as of now we aren’t able to confirm our availability on Nyepi due to possible restrictions from the local government. We are currently waiting for the official procedures issued by the government,” GlobalXtreme Chief Brand Officer Antonius Chandra wrote in an email to Coconuts Bali on Thursday.

On the provincial level, Sujaya, the head of Communications, Informatics, and Statistics for Bali Province told Kumparan that his department has received a proposal from PHDI, which will be a topic of discussion amongst the Regional Legislative Council (DPRD) in the coming week. DPRD will have to make its own proposal before taking anything up to Kominfo, Sujaya said in the report, released on Monday.

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