Initially localized to certain states like Jammu & Kashmir, the practice of internet blackouts by the Indian government has become very common across the country. The most recent shutdown took place in Uttar Pradesh on Thursday, December 27, 2019, when UP government had blocked out Internet connectivity in 21 districts over concerns of further protest against the Citizenship (Amendment) Act erupting after the Friday prayers. New Delhi, India’s national capital also saw internet shutdown in several parts of the city in the month of December.
The Internet Shutdowns – a website and tracker of instances where a particular district or state is reportedly under a government-restricted internet –collects and collates reports from across India during such cases. Over 70 instances of internet shutdown in 2017 to 134 in 2018, India ranked first in the list of countries which imposed internet restriction last year gaining the title of “Internet shutdown capital of the world”.
The website also recorded the longest ever ban imposed on access to the internet which is still under effect in J&K. The state went under a complete lock down of mobile and internet services from the August 2019, when Article 370 of the Constitution was abrogated by the Parliament of India. There was a preventive shutdown imposed in the state which is yet to be lifted, the beginning of the communication blockade saw landlines as well as Mobile services restricted, the ban on landlines was lifted but suspension of mobile internet continues in the valley.
In fact, India has turned so infamous for it during the last few months that China –known for its surveillance of online activity – is citing India as an example. An editorial by Qing Qin in People’s Daily – China’s largest newspaper and a controlled entity of the country’s ruling party, said, “The internet shutdown in India has once again proved that the necessary regulation of the internet is a reasonable choice of sovereign countries based on national interests, and a natural extension of national sovereignty in cyberspace.”
The cost of shut down
India lost $968 million because of internet shutdown between July 2015 and June 2016, a study by the think-tank Brookings Institution found. According to another research report filed by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, in around five year-period –2012 to 2017 –, India lost around USD 3 billion due to mobile internet and broadband shutdowns. Since then the number of bans imposed on the accessibility of the internet across India has only risen.
“A telco loses a minimum of Rs 1.5 crore a day per state if its internet services are shut down. If the state holds a large population and the ban is for a longer duration, then the loss is larger”, said Rajan Mathew, director general of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). The body represents all three private players Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea.
From regular people who are unable to connect to the Internet or call their families to businesses, internet shutdown affects everyone. Business sectors, such as banking, tourism, e-commerce, education, and healthcare, among others, are the most impacted in such regions.
A report by leading newspaper notes that “Food delivery apps have seen volumes dip by 10-20%” in 24 districts of UP, Delhi, and other internet prohibited areas.” Grofers had rescheduled close to 25,000 grocery orders in Lucknow alone due to the imposition of ban on the Internet.
That’s not all. Internet shutdown hurt local residents of the concerning area and businesses with the imposition of restriction on access to the Internet, residents were unable to contact other people over the internet, access emails on their phones, pay for bills online, use services like Paytm, PhonePe and UPI, use credit/debit cards for payments and many more tribulations.
In a massive setback, students were unable to access study material available on the Internet or fill forms of important examinations that will be conducted this year.
(The views expressed by the author in the article are his/her own.)