India may be celebrating the advances it has made in terms of promotion of technology—the government is pushing Digital India—but a new report on internet shutdowns shows that the country also curbs internet freedom to a high degree. The Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns report shows that India was the third-most economically affected country, after Iraq and Sudan, accounting for over 100 shutdowns. The report further shows that internet shutdowns lasted 4,196 hours in 2019 costing $1.3 billion. If that number is correct, then India lost close to half of what it had between 2012 and 2017 in just one year—an Icrier study had found that the economic impact of internet shutdowns for 2012-17 was $3.04 billion.
Moreover, reports from Twitter, Facebook and TikTok showed that most content takedown requests had come from India. While the government is promoting Digital India to enhance productivity and value, and as internet becomes a basic necessity—an SC judgment on J&K just reiterated this—the government also needs to look at shutdowns differently, especially when they can have such a large economic impact. Shutting down services for maintenance of law and order is justifiable, but it can’t be the go-to solution. Besides, with apps like Bridgefy—this does not require internet but works on bluetooth and has been instrumental in Hong Kong protests—gaining currency, the purpose of shutdowns get defeated. The government would do well to keep internet flowing. After all, being being in the same club as Iran and Sudan on digital freedoms is deeply shameful.