The High Cost of Taking Your Country Offline


Shutting down the digital world doesn’t come cheap.

Beyond the human rights implications of cutting off citizens’ ability to connect, a new report explores the economic hit a country takes from stifling online business and trade activities.

Government-mandated shutdowns of the internet can cost an average high-connectivity country at least 1.9 percent of its daily gross domestic product (GDP) for each day all internet services are shut down, according to a new report from the Global Network Initiative, an international forum that includes civil advocacy groups as well as tech companies like Yahoo, Google and Facebook. 

Internet disruptions – including shutting down social media sites, messaging services and mobile networks – have risen exponentially in the last decade, with one of the most publicized examples coming in 2011 when Egyptian authorities shutdown the internet countrywide for five days in the midst of political protests, according to another report by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit think tank. 

Last year, the cost of economic losses from full or partial internet shutdowns by governments was estimated at over $2.4 billion, not including tax losses or drops in investor, business and consumer confidence, according to Brookings. Those losses came from 81 shutdowns in 19 different countries like India, Brazil and Saudi Arabia between July 2015 and June 2016. 

Countries that are more connected stand to take a harder economic hit than lower-connectivity countries, the initiative’s report said. In U.S. dollar terms, the per-day cost of a complete internet shutdown for the average highly connected country would be about $23.6 million per 10 million citizens in the country, compared to $6.6 million and $0.6 million for medium- and low-connection countries, respectively.

Governments gave many reasons for ordering shutdowns, from reducing public dissidence to fighting terrorism, according to the Brookings report. 

The U.S. was not among those countries that disrupted internet service, sparing it from a potentially huge hit. The U.S. internet industry was responsible for an estimated $966 billion, or 6 percent of real GDP, in 2014, according to a 2015 Internet Association report.

The high stakes of a shutdown became evident in July, when over 140 business leaders, researchers and inventors said in an open letter that GOP presidential nominee Donald J. Trump’s proposals of “shutting down” part of the internet for security reasons showed poor judgement and ignorance about how technology works. A Trump presidency would be a “disaster for innovation,” it said.