India restricted Internet access more than any country, lost $2.8 billion: Global survey

Published : January 09, 2021 17:45 IST

Journalists protest against 100 days of Internet blockade in Srinagar, on November 12, 2019. Photo: Mukhtar Khan/AP

India is the most economically impacted nation by Internet shutdowns in 2020, a recent global survey has found. The survey assessed the economic losses accruing from Internet shutdown to be at $4.01 billion, of which India alone accounted for $2.8 billion.

The report, titled “Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns in 2020”, has been prepared by Top10VPN, a digital privacy group working to defend digital freedoms through independent reviews and research. It used data from Netblocks, an Internet monitoring NGO, and The Internet Society, an advocacy group. It also used indicators from the World Bank, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Eurostat and the United States Census. As many as 93 major shutdowns were witnessed in 2020 across 21 countries.

The report found that despite 2020 being a pandemic year, there were more hours of Internet shutdowns in 2020 than in 2019. According to the report, the total hours of Internet shutdown stood at 27,165, with 10,693 hours of Internet blackout, 10,920 hours of Internet throttling and 5,552 hours of social media shutdowns. The report said: “These shutdowns disproportionately impacted poorer nations already struggling against Covid-19.”

The report further revealed that 268 million people were affected by the Internet disruptions, which was done to put restrictions on freedom of assembly in 29 per cent of the cases. Whereas 15 per cent of the disruptions were aimed at election interference, 12 per cent were associated with infringement on the freedom of press.

India, where large parts of Jammu and Kashmir still await high-speed Internet, saw 1,655 hours of Internet blackout, most of which were in order to limit right to peaceful assembly and freedom of the press, according to the report.

The report stated: “As in previous years, India continued to restrict Internet access more than any other country—over 75 times in 2020. The majority of these short blackouts were highly-targeted, affecting groups of villages or individual city districts and so were not included in this report, which focuses on larger region-wide shutdowns. The true economic cost is therefore likely to be even higher than the $2.8BN we have calculated.”

The report made several critical observations on the impact of Internet shutdown in Kashmir. “In Kashmir, authorities lifted restrictions in March 2020, seven months on from a controversial decision made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to strip India’s only Muslim-majority region of its autonomy. However, after the restrictions were lifted authorities continued to severely throttle Internet speeds, with citizens only able to access 2G connections. During the longest Internet shutdown in a democracy, the arbitrary arrest of senior Kashmiri political leaders, lawyers, rights activist and students became widespread.”

“The restrictions have negatively impacted the distribution of medicine, businesses and schools,” the report said.