Internet shutdown costs economy over $3 billion in last five years: Report
Over 16,000 hours of Internet shutdowns cost the economy a little over $3 billion over the last five years, stated a report by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations released Wednesday.
The number of Internet shutdowns in India more than doubled last year, according to the report titled “The Anatomy of an Internet Blackout: Measuring the Economic Impact of Internet Shutdowns in India.” The organisation estimates an average hourly loss of over $180,000 in India over the last five years.
The study also shed light on sectors that suffer during shutdowns, most notably smaller businesses, e-commerce and online freelancers. Others include tourism, IT services, and the media industry. Longer shutdowns impact more significantly, such as a 10-day shutdown in Ahmedabad in 2015 that cost the state 0.8 per cent of its annual GDP. Kashmir since 2017 and West Bengal in 2017 also have struck the economy significantly.
Along with their quantitative analysis, the organisation’s field research in seven of the 18 Indian states that have faced shutdowns found that orders for shutdowns have been driven by the anticipation or prevention of law and order conflicts. The report states that shutdowns are justified if rumours on social media and messaging create serious security concerns. “While solutions are being crafted and Internet companies are tirelessly working on finding ways to curb it, an immediate and popular approach among governments is to order temporary suspension of Internet services,” the report states.
At a local scope, social networking sites have become a bed for criminal activity through automated fake accounts, chain letter scams, and more, says the report. “India is vulnerable to the rising menace of social media crimes,” the report says. “Internet companies that serve as the medium are literally on the horns of a legal dilemma with respect to sifting information-to sift or not to sift? A similar predicament confronts governments that on the one hand support development of the Internet and associated infrastructure for digital enablement and on the other clamp down on its functioning using ordered measures such as censorship, blocking and shutdowns.”
That being said, the report raises concerns about the infringement of human rights, in accordance with the United Nations Human Rights legislation. By 2016, the country has had the highest number of internet shutdowns, igniting debates regarding their legality such as challenges in the Gujarat High Court. The escalation led to new rules by the Government of India last year dictating which entities can authorise shutdowns.
Showcasing further economic impact, the report stated that specifically mobile Internet shutdowns of roughly 12,000 hours cost the economy around $2.4 billion and 3,700 hours of mobile and fixed line Internet shutdowns in India cost it about $680 million in the last five years.
The researchers lay out suggestions for future scenarios: create a civilian line of reporting about on-the-ground realities, restrict blanket shutdowns, provide official communication about shutdowns, document the nature and scale of the shutdown, compel telecom and Internet servie providers to disclose policies on shutdowns, improve connectivity, promote counter-speech, educate against hate speech, promote independent fact-checking, and enable cross-state communication.