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India Must Regulate Internet Shutdowns, Say Tech Giants

State internet shutdowns “cause significant inconvenience to local public at large,” the Internet and Mobile Association of India said


Apple store in India
A customer at an Apple reseller store in Mumbai, India. Photo: Reuters

 

The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) has asked India’s government to centralise the control of internet shutdowns currently administered by states across the country in a recent letter.

A group of India’s largest tech and telco firms, including Alphabet’s Google, Twitter, Facebook and Reliance, said the current system “causes significant inconvenience to local public at large.”

The letter proposed that only the federal government should act as the governing authority for internet suspensions, and states must follow procedures.

 

Online State Powers

India’s government said that emergency internet shutdowns were a matter for states in the interest of law and order in 2019.

Internet shutdowns cost the country more than $580 million in 2021, with 59 million people impacted by the halt of wireless services that lasted for over 1,150 hours, a research report by internet privacy group top10vpn said.

India has led the world in total internet shutdowns in the past four years, accounting for 58% of the 182 recorded globally last year, according to internet advocacy group Access Now.

State governments in the country often resort to shutdowns to maintain law and order, for instance amid protests, or in some cases to prevent cheating during exams.

 

The Cost of Shutdowns

Once a shutdown order is issued, telecom companies turn off the cellular networks at transmitting towers providing mobile phone internet services in the area, disrupting services like Google, Twitter and WhatsApp.

IAMAI’s letter to the government, which is not public yet, comes at a time when big tech firms in India are already facing stricter rules on everything from data storage to compliance norms, raising their costs and dampening investment plans.

“Internet shutdowns are widely disproportionate and excessive. They hurt livelihoods, education, health care,” said Radhika Jhalani, Volunteer Legal Counsel at Software Freedom and Law Center, which has tracked the issue.

About 96% of internet users in India are mobile internet users and shutdowns bring their lives “to a standstill,” she added.

 

  • Reuters with additional editing from Alfie Habershon

 

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Alfie Habershon

Alfie is a Reporter at Asia Financial. He previously lived in Mumbai reporting on India's economy and healthcare for data journalism initiative IndiaSpend, as well as having worked for London based Tortoise Media.

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