According to research conducted by our team at Comparitech, internet blackouts and social media restrictions cost the world’s economy more than $4.5 billion in 2020. $2.5 billion of this (almost 60 percent) comes from over 100 shutdowns in India (mainly within the Jammu and Kashmir region).
Implemented by governments to restrict communications and information during voting, school exams, outbreaks of militant fighting, and protests, these shutdowns have a huge impact on local and worldwide economies as well as citizens’ rights and freedom of speech.
Internet shutdowns – Q1 2021
In the first three months of 2021, internet shutdowns cost the world’s economy $1.041 billion and lasted 8,069.5 hours. A 6 percent decrease in cost and 14.5 percent decrease in hours lost from 2020.
At the end of the same period in 2020, internet shutdowns had cost the world’s economy an estimated $1.102 billion with over 65 percent of these costs ($718.5 million) stemming from shutdowns and internet throttling in India. In total, these worldwide internet restrictions lasted 9,332.5 hours.
Why the slight decrease in 2021?
Since the beginning of February when 4G internet services were restored in the Jammu and Kashmir region following 18 months of throttling and intermittent shutdowns, things have remained relatively quiet in India. Had this continued, we’d have likely been looking at double the figures.
Compared to the $718.5 million lost to shutdowns and internet throttling in India in the first three months of last year, ‘just’ $328.5 million has been lost in the same period of this year. And most of this came from the internet throttling in Jammu and Kashmir which was lifted two months ago.
Unfortunately, the number of hours and amount lost to internet shutdowns remain high this year due to Mynamar’s ongoing internet blackouts.
By the end of March, 3,399 hours had been lost to internet restrictions in Myanmar. This has cost the world’s economy $634 million. And, at the time of writing, Mynamar is entering its 52nd night of internet shutdowns, is on day 23 of its mobile internet shutdown, and is on day 20 of its public WiFi limitations. Online platforms, e.g. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, remain heavily restricted, too (and have been so since the beginning of February).
Other shutdowns and restrictions for Q1 2021 include:
- Uganda – Social media restrictions, internet throttling, and internet blackout amid presidential elections. These affected services for 684 hours and cost $50.95 million.
- Russia – Internet throttling was noted in January for 6 hours amid opposition protests. With the internet being throttled to 83% of its usual speed, this is estimated to have cost $13.06 million.
- Armenia – Internet connectivity levels dropped to 82% for five hours amid rumors of an attempted military coup. This cost an estimated $387,500.
- Iran – Mobile internet disruptions were noted for three days in the Sistan and Baluchestan region following protests over fatal border shootings. A significant drop in Iran’s internet connectivity speed was also noted for an hour and a half after protests erupted in the southeast. In total, these disruptions cost an estimated $734.
- Chad – After reports of a deadly armed raid at Yaya Dillo’s (the opposition candidate) house, internet disruptions were noted with levels dropping to 60%. This lasted for around eight hours and cost an estimated $139,000.
- Senegal – Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and WhatsApp were disrupted amid demonstrations following the arrest of opposition leader Ousmane Sonko. This lasted seven and a half hours and cost an estimated $328,000.
- Niger – An internet blackout that lasted 239 hours following provisional election results and subsequent protests cost an estimated $4.48 million.
- Republic of the Congo (Brazzaville) – An internet blackout lasted for three days amid presidential elections and cost an estimated $1.45 million.
- Bangladesh – Facebook services were shut down amid protests following the Prime Minister’s visit to Dhaka. This lasted around 48 hours and cost an estimated $8 million.
What’s in store for the rest of 2021?
As always, it is difficult to predict. The easing of India’s restrictions earlier this year provided a glimmer of hope. But with the Myanmar restrictions showing no signs of being removed and the ongoing issue of governments pulling internet services amid elections and protests–2021 looks to be just as costly for internet restrictions (and people’s freedoms) as last year…if not more so.
As Russia’s connectivity only dropped to 83 percent, the shutdown has been calculated at 17 percent.
Myanmar’s shutdown costs for 02/01 were calculated based on the number of hours at 75% (cost of 25%) and 50% (cost of 50%) connectivity. To calculate the cost of shutting down mobile internet only (from 03/15), we have used the share of web traffic by device with 73.4% coming from mobiles. Social media shutdown costs haven’t been added to mobile shutdowns due to the vast majority (over 99%) of residents using their mobiles to access social platforms.
After the 5-day shutdown in Uganda, social media restrictions continued and internet connectivity remained at around 90%. Netblocks’s cost tool calculates a full internet shutdown at the same cost as the shutdown of the blocking of social media sites and WhatsApp, so our calculations for the throttling are included within the social media shutdowns.
Figures may go up or down as reports are renewed and more information becomes available.
Internet shutdowns cost the world’s economy $4.5 billion in 2020
As we have already mentioned, India suffered the most shutdowns in 2020, with the region of Jammu and Kashmir accounting for the vast majority of these restrictions. However, this could be due to the government there readily publishing shutdown orders, with many of the other regions criticized for not doing so. These shutdowns were primarily due to encounters between security forces and terrorists. Others were instigated due to elections and protests. Throughout 2020, these shutdowns across India caused over 13,000 hours of downtime and cost the economy over $2.5 billion.
When it comes to the longest periods without internet and/or social networks, however, African countries were the hardest hit. Chad had the longest shutdown with WhatsApp being blocked for 3,912 hours at a total cost of more than $26 million. Running from July 22 and ongoing at the end of the year, this shutdown was implemented due to the spread of “hatred and division.”
This was followed by Tanzania with an internet blackout that lasted 1,584 hours in 2020 at the cost of over $622 million. It started when elections were due to take place but continued long after, with no updates of it having been fully restored by the end of 2020. In fact, the Netherlands ambassador in Tanzania, Verheul Jeroen, even Tweeted “Why is access to Twitter still blocked in #Tanzania? Did somebody forget to switch it back on?” on 13 December.
Ethiopia also suffered three lengthy internet blackouts that lasted a combined total of 3,657 hours and cost over $109 million. The first ran from January to the beginning of April in Western Oromia and cost over $1.4 million. Reasons weren’t provided straight away but “security reasons” were cited in February. Then, in June, the internet was cut off across the entire country for 23 days following the shooting of prominent singer, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa. This cost $102.5 million. The third occurred in November in the region of Tigray after war broke out in the area. It lasted until mid-December when some services were restored and resulted in downtime of 960 hours at a cost of $5.48 million.
In Vietnam, Facebook’s (and consequently, Instagram’s) servers were taken offline 50 days after Facebook refused to censor posts. This had a combined economic cost of $358.3 million.
Shutdowns by platform – 2020
Shut down or throttled for almost 28,400 hours in total, the web was the most heavily-impacted platform in 2020. Plus, with the web generating the highest revenues, these shutdowns resulted in a cost to the economy of nearly $4 billion and affected over 450 million internet users.
The web was closely followed by WhatsApp – the favored communication app for many thanks to its encrypted messages. Forcibly shut down by governments to prevent communications during elections, examinations, protests, outbreaks of fighting, and due to “the mispread of information,” access to WhatsApp was restricted for a total of 4,602 hours in 2020 and cost $55.6 million.
Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram also suffered huge losses – $255 milllion, $222 million, and $43 million each respectively due to shutdowns lasting for thousands of hours. In some cases, all three platforms are hit with the same restrictions at the same time. For example, in Mali, these three channels, along with WhatsApp, were restricted for 144 hours due to mass protests. This single shutdown cost the economy over $5.87 million.
How much would an internet shutdown cost in your country?
Based on the data provided by Netblocks.org, we can estimate that, if the entire internet was shut down for just 24 hours, this would cost the world’s economy a whopping $40 billion – around $1.7 billion per hour, $27.7 million per minute, and just under half a million per second.
But where would an internet shutdown have the biggest economic cost? And what would a shutdown cost in your country?
Using reports of internet shutdowns on Netblocks.org, internetshutdowns.in, Facebook’s shutdown report, and other reputable news sources, we created a timeline of internet shutdowns and social media restrictions around the world. To calculate the economic costs of these, we used Netblocks.org’s Cost of Shutdown Tool to estimate the cost of each of these shutdowns. The tool uses indicators from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat, and U.S. Census to make its calculations. It gives the cost of full internet shutdowns as well as individual figures for isolated shutdowns on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and WhatsApp.
Where a shutdown only occurred in a region of a country, the cost of the shutdown was estimated in relation to the percent of the country’s GDP produced in the region.
Shutdowns as a result of natural disasters or communication failures (e.g. infrastructure issues) were not included. Incidents where no timescales were given were also omitted, including one in Cuba due to insufficient data being available for the platform shutdown costs.
Due to WhatsApp and YouTube numbers being unavailable in the countries affected, the user figures are based on the average percentage of the world’s population using these platforms on a monthly basis. Both WhatsApp and YouTube have 2 billion monthly users, which is 25.97 percent of the global population. Internet user figures are based on the percentage of the population using the internet as per World Bank data.
For the full data set and timeline, click here:
2020 – https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1fpQvoYIUoCpNoJZwn2b0RjVIny-nI9zKlqkkskyfJGQ/edit?usp=sharing
2021 – https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1gXqhIf9pNwZ6u7K3V2ip8poFtp5-nzo7J8wuiuStyss/edit?usp=sharing