India’s misguided internet shutdowns cost the country $2.7B in 2020

India’s misguided internet shutdowns cost the country $2.7B in 2020
Credit: Bonegolem / The Noun Project

India has one of the largest internet userbases in the world. So, whenever the central or state government decides to cut internet access for one reason or another, a large number of people and businesses are affected; that results in a large monetary loss.

According to a new report by Top10VPN — a site that tracks VPN and privacy tools –India lost nearly $2.7 billion due to internet shutdowns in 2020 — more than the combined total of the next 10 countries in the chart. India was also stayed offline for longer than any other country, at 8,927 hours last year (the report adds hours of simultaneous shutdowns at different places). As per — a site that tracks internet blockages in India — the country had 83 shutdowns in 2020.

Credit: Top10VPN
Internet shutdowns in 2020 and their impact (country-wise)

The biggest contributor to India’s figures is the internet shutdown in Jammu & Kashmir which ran from August 2019 to March 2020. The government blocked the internet in the region in August 2019 — home to more than 7 million people — after it scrapped Article 370 of the Indian constitution which provided autonomy to the Jammu & Kashmir state government in certain administrative areas. In March 2020, when the state government removed restrictions on access to prominent sites, a ton of mobile users were still using 2G to get online, as that was the only service available to them.

A report from the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce suggested that the internet shutdown and restriction in the region caused a loss of $5.3 billion.  While it’s hard to say which of the figures are more accurate, it’s clear that people in India suffered major losses as a result of internet connectivity being blocked.

Earlier in the year, the government also blocked the internet in various regions due to protests against the controversial Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) that grants citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from select neighboring countries.

Ironically, while blocking internet access in several regions, the central government announced last year that it planned to bring fiber-optics based broadband to all Indian villages in the next three years. While it may be great for folks living in those parts to get high-speed internet, all this effort would be meaningless if the country continues to have a large number of internet shutdowns.

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