In the past few years, instances of internet shutdowns have invited criticism for being ineffective and offensive. It has been called a useless measure of censorship that lead to enormous costs to the economy. Instances of internet shutdowns in India have more than doubled in the past year. With an average hourly loss of over $1,80,000 in India over the last five years, according to a report published by ICRIER.
What is an Internet Shutdown?
An Internet Shutdown can be defined as “a Government-imposed disablement of access to the Internet as a whole within a particular locality or localities for any duration of time”.1
Why Internet Shutdowns?
The Internet can easily propagate rumours, provocative messaging and false propaganda. This may provoke violence and unrest. Generally, the Government imposes internet shutdowns as a preventive measure in conflict ridden areas.
The Impact of Internet Shutdowns in India
During the period of 2012 to 2017, India witnessed 16,315 hours of Internet Shutdown, 12,615 hours of Mobile Internet Shutdown, and 3700 hours of Mobile and Fixed Line Internet Shutdowns, costing the Indian economy a total of over $6 billion. The average estimate of hourly loss over this period is $186,332.
The number of Internet Shutdowns in 2017 was more than twice the number of shutdowns in 2016. In fact, five months in to 2018, India has already experienced 40 Internet Shutdowns.
The data from the report titled ‘Anatomy of an Internet Blackout: Measuring the Economic Impact of Internet Shutdowns in India’ released by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER) reveals that there is a significant increase in the number of Internet Shutdowns in India, and besides its political implications, there is also a negative impact on the economy.
The economic impact of an internet shutdown is borne by e-commerce businesses, tourism institutions, IT services, and news media. These sectors, along with many others, are solely dependent upon a functioning internet. Further, smaller businesses in these categories may be unable to find alternatives during a shutdown, and can therefore suffer adversely.
Regulating Internet Shutdowns
The Government is justified in its initiatives to regulate the internet. However, it lacks in the execution of the initiatives in that it can restrict the fundamental benefits of it. It is important, therefore, to agree upon a future course of action that can assist the Government in regulating the internet in a safe and just manner while ensuring that it does not threaten the safety of its citizens, and does not deny them the benefits of being on a network with the globe. Some important measures are:
• Documentation: Provision of official notifications regarding Internet Shutdowns, documentation of shutdowns, and the promotion of independent fact-checking.
• Accountability and Self-Regulation: Curbing of disproportionate internet shutdowns, establishment of corporate accountability, and promotion of educative campaigns to curb hate-speech, inflammatory messages, and instead encourage effective counter-speech.
• Forward-Looking Measures: Sharing and propagation of best practices and capacity building across the country.
The internet is an essential platform for communication . It is also the enabler of many fundamental rights, such as the freedom of speech and expression. In the past decade, it has quickly become an indispensable and positive catalyst for the growth of the economy, advancements in technology, education and healthcare, and aids tremendously in a variety of e-governance initiatives. The report released by ICRIER sheds light on a variety of negative impacts of internet shutdowns on the economy. This should act as a wake-up call for the Government to employ Internet Shutdowns sparsely in rare cases, rather than as a default response.