How Internet Shutdown Affects Our Economy, Business, Education and Employment || A Detailed Analysis

Recently, a report was published by Freedom House, a U.S. based non-profit organisation that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political freedom, and human rights. According to the report, India has become the word leader when it comes to shutting down the internet. A total of 134 internet shutdowns which is 67% of the world’s documented internet shutdowns took place in India last year. In this article, we are going to discuss what are the major negative effects of internet shutdowns and how much loss India and its people have to suffer because of that.

Before I begin this article, I want to make it clear that his is not a rant about the government snatching away our right to speech and freedom of expression. I agree that internet shutdowns are a violation of our freedom of expression but this article is more of a factual analysis  about how it affects our economy, business and other more important things than 'freedom of expression'. Economy, education and employment are what I believe to be the most important factors that actually show how developed a country is. In this article, I have tried to explain how internet shutdowns have a negative effect on our economy, education and employment and also some alternatives to shutting down the internet.

WHAT IS INTERNET SHUTDOWN?

Basically, internet shutdown means that you cannot access internet over a particular location. Internet shutdowns are of 2 types - total shutdown and partial shutdown. During a total shutdown, all internet services are completely blocked including broadband carriers and mobile data services. This block is generally region or countrywide and people are unable to go online on any device. Then there is partial shutdown, in which the government restricts your access to certain apps or websites. This is generally done to stop people from sharing information with others. Internet shutdowns can be short, like what happened in Aligarh when Supreme Court gave its verdict on the Ayodhya Ram Mandir case where internet was shut down as a preventive measure for a few days and internet shutdowns can also be long like what is happening in Kashmir. There, internet services have been shut down since August. Their WhatsApp accounts have expired as a result. To maintain security and limit data retention, WhatsApp accounts generally expire after 120 days of inactivity.

The United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution on 1st July, 2016, condemning the internet shutdowns by various countries, while at the same time recognising the need for the same standards of protection to the rights, especially right to freedom of expression in the online medium. Since this is non binding in nature, no one actually follows this resolution. Anyways, since the talk of human rights or freedom of speech or communication lock-down is beyond the scope of this article, let us proceed further.

WHAT DOES THE DATA SAY?

According to the website internetshutdowns.in, since 2012, internet services have been shut down 365 times in India. Internet services were shut down 3 times in 2012, 5 times in 2013, 6 times in 2014, 14 times in 2015, 31 times in 2016, 79 times in 2017, 134 times in 2018 and 93 times till now.

When we compare the figures of 2018 with other countries of the world, internet services were shutdown 12 times in Pakistan, 7 times in Iraq, 7 times in Yemen and 5 times in Bangladesh. These countries also face similar problems like India and their governments are much less democratic than India. One can argue that these are lesser developed countries with less internet penetration but then there is Russia - a country with better internet penetration and a more authoritarian government than India with only 2 cases of internet shutdowns in 2018. Also, remember that Russia is dealing with riots and anti government protests in some parts of the country especially in Crimea.

All the arguments aside, the figure of 134 internet shutdowns in just one year doesn't suit India -  the world's largest democracy. Not only it violates our basic human rights of free speech and expression, but its effects are much more serious than you think. The year 2020 is just 2 weeks away and Digital India is a reality now. As of 31st March 2019, India had 451 million monthly active internet users. This means that India has an internet penetration of approximately 35%. 12% of global internet users are Indians. This makes India the second largest country of internet users. 72% of urban Internet users in India, which is approximately 139 million users, use internet daily. 

An internet shutdown is more than just a disconnection from Whatsapp or Facebook. Most of our day to day tasks like ordering food, paying bills, paying a local sabzi-wala, making projects for school, studying something from Wikipedia, filling forms for an examination, checking result of an examination, applying for jobs, communicating with friends & family, watching news, playing games, etc. - everything is being done through the internet. Not only this, e-Governance is also a reality now and many government services are available on the internet. Because of these factors, whenever internet services are shut down, we suffer a huge economic and educational loss.

Economic loss

According to a study published by Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations, Indian economy suffered a loss of 3 billion US$ between 2012-2017. Not to mention that there were 138 instances internet shutdowns during this period as compared to 227 from 2018 to present. One can only imagine how much more money we lost in 2018 and 2019.

According to an analysis done by Deloitte, in countries with medium internet penetration in which 49% - 79% of the population uses internet, just one day of internet shutdown can mean a loss of 6.6 million US$ per 10 million people. Considering the fact that India aimed to increase its internet penetration to 627 million users before the start of financial year 2021 and assuming that we won't observe any population growth till then, this will mean that we will have around 50% internet penetration by the end of financial year 2021. Doing the maths, India will loose more than 85 million US$ per day whenever internet services are shut down. This is more than 25% of the present annual GDP of Pakistan. 

If these figures don't alarm you, I don't know what will! You might argue that India is a 'rich country' and we are progressing towards a 5 trillion US$ economy and our 'strong government' can cope up with such 'small financial losses'. In that case, I must remind you that a lot of the monetary loss is not only the government's loss, but your personal loss as well. It would be the loss of the local sabzi-wala who cannot do online transactions. It would be a personal loss of you, a small businessman who will not be able to receive payment from his/her clients. The government might recover the loss soon but there is no guarantee that you would be able to do the same.

Educational loss

With an internet shutdown, we are restricting avenues for learning that are provided by platforms like Coursera, Udemy, Unacademy or even YouTube. Not only video sharing platforms like the ones mentioned, print media is also an important source of learning on the internet. 

Not only just learning, most exams nowadays are conducted online. The results of almost all exams are exclusively declared on the internet nowadays. Shutting down the internet means that snatching away these basic rights of the students. A good example is of the Air Force Common Admission Test (AFCAT) exam that was scheduled to be conducted on 24th August in Srinagar. The exam was cancelled and was then conducted in Jammu on 25th September.

Imagine if you studied for months or even years to crack these exams and now you cannot even appear in these exams. Or if by chance, you are lucky enough to appear for the exam, you won't be able to check the result of the exam.  Or if by chance, you are lucky enough to check the result, you will have trouble applying for further phases of the selection process of any government exam because that procedure is also done through the internet.

Another thing to worry about is that nowadays, most universities in India follow online mode of application. This means that if there is an internet shutdown, a student cannot apply to his/her course of choice even if he/she topped in 12th board examinations. The whole future of that particular student is at stake.

Employment loss

Businesses such as e-commerce suffer most during shutdowns along with online freelancers who operate out of small towns and are completely dependent on internet for their living. Then there are artists who are also dependent on internet for their income. Internet has made it easier for artists of various art forms like music, painting, writing, dance etc. to showcase their talent to the world for free and get paid in the process. Shutting down the internet means no employment for them. No employment means no money, no money means poor economy and the cycle continues.

Not only this, internet has made it easier to apply for many jobs. Almost all the government job related exams are conducted online nowadays. Or if the exam is not conducted online, then some part of the selection procedure is done online. It can be filling the application form, downloading the admit card, or whatever. If someone can't apply for a job only because there is an internet shutdown  even though he/she is qualified for that particular job, it is one of the biggest injustice one can think of. Again, no employment means no money, no money means poor economy and the cycle continues.

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION?

Whenever something happens anywhere, the first step that the government takes is to shut down internet services. The government's point is that it is necessary to prevent the spread of false propaganda and fake news. This is one of the most common argument put forward by people who have never witnessed an internet shutdown personally or by people who are in favour of shutting down the internet to control any anti-government voices.

I agree that social media has made it very easy for the antisocial elements to incite violence so this looks like a logical and necessary step to shut down the internet services. But in reality there are better ways that the government should look forward to. There is no evidence that riots can be controlled by shutting down the internet. Riots used to take place even when there were no landline phones. So this is just a stupid excuse from the government in my opinion.

When you get a fracture in your leg, the doctor doesn't put up a plaster on your whole body. He only puts a plaster on the affected leg. Shutting down the internet is like putting a plaster on your whole body. Here are some alternatives that are better than complete internet shutdown in my opinion:

  • Blocking certain websites and services like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter because almost all of the fake news and propaganda is spread on a selected few platforms only. 
  • Empowering Police through Police Reforms so that they can handle these kind of situations without shutting down the internet. The ability of police to investigate cyber crimes in India is not up to the mark. Training the police to deal with such issues in a more efficient way is a better solution. A good example is of France where internet was not shut down even when a terrorist attack took place. The French law enforcement agencies also used internet to help people.

IN CONCLUSION,

Internet Shutdown is more serious than you think of. This article only talks about 3 important factors - education, employment and economy. It does not even talk about the impact of internet shutdown on things like healthcare industry, freedom of speech, importance of communication at times of distress etc. and still the findings are scary. Do not wait for someone else to solve this issue for you. That's not how this world works. The chances of this issue being resolved are only as high as the number of people that are talking about this issue. You can or rather you should spread awareness wherever you can. You can help to spread the message by posting on social media by using the hashtag #KeepItOn to collectively increase the visibility of this issue.



Hi, I am Pranjay Varshney. I am pursuing my B.Sc. (Hons) in Electronic Science from University of Delhi. My dream is to join the Indian Army as an officer and I am very passionate about it. I like to write articles about Indian Armed Forces and various political and economic affairs. I spend my free time working on my gymnastics skills, listening to music or watching war movies.

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The Radical - Information That Matters: How Internet Shutdown Affects Our Economy, Business, Education and Employment || A Detailed Analysis
How Internet Shutdown Affects Our Economy, Business, Education and Employment || A Detailed Analysis
Basically, internet shutdown means that you cannot access internet over a particular location. Internet shutdowns can be short, like what happened in Aligarh when Supreme Court gave its verdict on the Ayodhya Ram Mandir case where internet was shut down as a preventive measure for a few days and internet shutdowns can also be long like what is happening in Kashmir.
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The Radical - Information That Matters
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