Africa loses $2bn from Internet shutdowns

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 10 Jan 2020

Sub-Saharan Africa lost more than $2 billion in economic value in 2019 after deliberate government action to shut down the Internet for more than 7 800 hours, a new report reveals.

Globally, more than 18 000 hours of Internet shutdowns around the world cost more than $8 billion in the same year.

Algeria, Chad, DRC, Ethiopia and Zimbabwe were among the worst offenders in terms of the amount of time the Internet was disrupted.

The report, which examines partial and total shutdowns across 122 countries, was published by the Internet research firm Top10VPN and builds on work done by the Internet freedom watchdog Netblocks and advocacy group The Internet Society.

This Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns in 2019 report identifies the total economic impact of every major Internet blackout and social media shutdown around the world last year.

The company says: “We collated every national and region-wide incident, determined the duration of the restrictions and used the Cost of Shutdown Tool [COST] to calculate their economic impact. This tool, developed by Internet monitoring NGO Netblocks and advocacy group The Internet Society, uses indicators from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat and US Census.”

Explaining further, Top10VPN says in a statement: “We calculated over 18 000 hours of Internet shutdowns around the world in 2019 to have cost the global economy $8.05 billion. This represents a 235% increase in impact compared to $2.4 billion in 2015/16, according to the most recently available analysis.”

The report says there were more Internet shutdowns in 2019 than ever before.

“We included in this report 122 major incidents, ie, which were national or region-wide in their impact that took place during the last 12 months. However, once you include the 90-plus smaller blackouts in India plus other localised and partial restrictions, it’s clear that the previous year’s record total of 196 documented shutdowns has been surpassed,” it reads.

Commenting on the report, digital advocacy group, Access Now, says: “An Internet shutdown is an intentional disruption of Internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.”

Internet surveillance, censorship and restrictions are becoming the new norm for some governments in their fight against political unrest, according to Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN. “We’ll be seeing further network shutdowns around the globe.”

Speaking to ITWeb this week about the top six company cyber security trends for this year, Markuson predicts Internet shutdowns will persist.

He explained: “Last year, we saw Internet outages in Venezuela, Indian-controlled Kashmir, Iran, and many other countries. Also, a law introducing new controls on the Internet to make it more state-controlled came into force in Russia in 2019. It means that the officials will be able to cut off connections to the Web if they see an emergency.”

Top10VPN says of its report: “We have included social media shutdowns and Internet blackouts in our calculations. These types of Internet disruption are defined as follows: Internet blackouts: where access to the Internet is completely cut off. This extreme measure cannot be directly circumvented.

“Social media shutdowns: where access to popular social media platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter or YouTube have been blocked. These can typically be circumvented by using a VPN.”

According to the company, during its analysis of every Internet shutdown in 2019, some general trends emerged.

“They most often occur in response to protests or civil unrest, especially surrounding elections, as authoritarian regimes look to restrict the flow of information and maintain their grip on power,” it reads.

In economic terms, the report says disruptions not only affect the formal economy, but also the informal, especially in less well-developed nations.

“There can also be lasting damage with the loss of investor confidence and faltering development, all of which makes our estimates conservative. On the human rights side, these shutdowns clearly impact citizens’ freedom of expression and the right to information, and may even result in an increase in violence.”