Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion a year

Around the world, digital technology is seen as vital for economic development. In the U.S. alone, the internet accounts for about six percent of the entire e​conomy. Digital technology has expanded its role in the global economy in recent years, as both developed and developing nation​s have become increasingly reliant on the internet.

The centrality of the internet to social and economic life recently led the United Nations to enact a resolution supporting the “promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the internet.” The resolution specifically condemns state efforts to intentionally prevent or disrupt access to information online.

Yet powerful forces continue to threaten the vitality of the internet. In recent years, a number of countries have blocked particular applications, shut down specific digital services, turned off mobile telecommunications services, or disrupted the entire internet. Government officials give many reasons for ordering these disruptions, such as safeguarding government authority, reducing public dissidence, fighting terrorism, maintaining national security, or protecting local businesses.

Those actions separate people from their family, friends, and livelihoods, undermine economic growth, interfere with the startup ecosystem, and threaten social stability by interrupting economic activity, says Darrell West in a new paper​. In “Internet shutdowns cost countries $2.4 billion last year,” West analyzes the economic impact of temporary internet shutdowns. He examines 81 short-term shutdowns in 19 countries over the past year and estimates their impact on the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of those nations. Based upon this analysis, West finds that between July 1, 2015 and June 30, 2016, internet shutdowns cost at least US$2.4 billion in GDP globally. Economic losses include $968 million in India, $465 million in Saudi Arabia, $320 million in Morocco, $209 million in Iraq, $72 million in the Republic of the Congo, $69 million in Pakistan, $48 million in Syria, $35 million in Turkey and $9 million in Ethiopia​, among other places. These are conservative estimates that consider only reductions in economic activity and do not account for tax losses or drops in investor, business, and consumer confidence.

Clearly, internet disruptions are creating significant detrimental impacts on economic activity in a number of nations around the world. And, as West writes, “As the digital economy expands, it will become even more expensive for nations to shut down the internet. Without coordinated action by the international community, this damage is likely to accelerate in the future and further weaken global economic development.”​​

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I strive to advocate that multilateral organizations engaged in Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) should pursue their missions with a deeper understanding of nuanced issues beyond technology advancements; and this by driving thinking and advocating practices so that innovation and technology advancements are informed by their social and human impacts when addressing developmental challenges.

– Currently a PhD Fellow conducting evidence-based doctoral research on Information and Communication Technologies’ linkages to democratic governance and sustainable development in the context of authoritarian regimes to obtain a PhD in Governance and Policy Analysis at the Maastricht Graduate School of Governance

– Holder of an MBA in Management of Technology from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL) with an educational background in computer engineering and over 15 years of experience related to Information Technology with solid business understanding

– Served ITU, the United Nations’ specialized agency for information and communication technologies (ICTs) in the Information Services as Project Lead, Web and Internet Specialist and also as Strategy and Policy Analyst in the Corporate Strategy Division.

– Interested in a broad range of issues at the intersection of Technology and Society in particular E-governance, ICT-enabled Innovation and Societal Transformations.

– Written (often quoted) paper on E-government in Africa, multilingualism on the Internet.

– ​Led authoring of a business plan for seed funding a start-up​, a web-based cost effective way to send remittance as part of Entrepreneurship & Innovation of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (EPFL).

– Founded and directed with a vision to valorize locally relevant content in Amharic (Ethiopian language) and promote ICT4D. Launched in the early years of the World Wide Web (1995), the impactful community portal won the first prize of the African Information Society Initiative in 2005 and was quoted among ICT success stories in Africa at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS)​.

Since May 2006, the most popular Ethiopian web sites (including CyberEthiopia) and several blogs have been blocked across the nation. The apparent objective was to prevent the dissemination of information that is critical of the regime. Following the political protests which have swept the nation since November 2015, the then regime in Ethiopia had routinely shutdown the Internet, restricted access to Social Media and indicated its keenness to control Social Media.

On 22nd June 2018, the new Prime Minister Dr Abye Ahmed, hailed as the ‘Gorbachev of Ethiopia’, announced that his government has unblocked 264 websites including after 12 years of blockage .This was attested by the OONI’s thorough verifications of our website’s unblocking and reflected in Freedom on the Net 2019 where Ethiopia recorded the largest gains following the loosened restrictions by the New Prime Minister.