Olympic Diary: In Beijing internet access (or censorship) is variable

Before Team Star Tribune traveled to China, we knew we were going to face some technological hurdles. For instance, we were told we’d have access to unrestricted Internet service only in certain places. And by unrestricted, I mean free of censorship by the Chinese government.

In the Main Press Centre, we can Google anything we want. Same goes for venues (or so we hear; we’ll find out when events get started.) In our hotel rooms, that is not the case. And it’s a discomfiting feeling.

On the 12th floor of the Crowne Plaza Beijing Sun Palace, I can’t use Twitter. It tells me “Tweets can’t load right now,” though the internet and cellular network connections are plenty strong. I can’t read the New York Times. I’ve had mixed results with the Star Tribune’s website — I was able to access a story about the school shooting in Richfield on Tuesday, but not any stories about the Olympics.

Beijing officials promised an autonomous zone of sorts in the lobbies of every hotel housing the media. Here at the Sun Palace, it is four chairs lined up against a wall. It’s an unfettered Internet haven in the same vein as the “protest zone” at Beijing’s 2008 Summer Games, which was a fenced-off area miles away from any Olympic venue.

I’m trying it out right now, and it works. Four chairs, no censorship. At least for today.

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