Did You Notice that Chad is Offline for a Year? It’s Not Alone

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I believe we all can agree that a government should not close off Internet access for its citizenry. To an extent, an open Internet should be a human right, and no matter how much a government might not like its citizens’ protests, citizens should have the ability to communicate and coordinate online.
However, that’s not the mindset of many country governments. Internet access is being used the same as an other public asset – as a way to intimidate and control constituents.
Chad: Offline for Over a Year
For example, did you know that Chad is without reliable Internet access for over a year? Apparently, the government asked mobile network operators to reduce Internet access following the government’s contentious move to keep President Idriss Déby in office beyond 2030.
Sadly, Chad already has low Internet usage. Just 5% of the population has Internet access and they pay some of the highest internet prices; 1GB of mobile data costs over $13. Its Internet outage is even a record, surpassing Cameroon’s 230 days of total internet blackout.
Chad is not alone in cutting off Internet access to its populace. Six additional countries have created partial or full internet shutdowns in 2019 already: Algeria, Benin, DR Congo, Gabon, Sri Lanka, Sudan, and Zimbabwe. Last year there were more than 185 around the world last year, up from 108 in 2016, according to Access Now.
India: Greatest Internet Shutdown Offender
Don’t think Internet shutdowns are just in Africa or just in repressive regimes. Democratic and modern India is one of the main purveyors of Internet shutdowns.
For example, Darjeeling in West Bengal suffered a 45-day internet shutdown due to political demonstrations and Nawada in Bihar had a 40-day shutdown as a result of communal clashes. India even has Internet shutdowns in certain regions during high-stakes school examination to reduce cheating.
All those shutdowns cost real money too. According the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), 16,315 hours of intentional Internet downtime between 2012 and 2017 cost the Indian economy $3.04 billion.
Governments Can Throttle Internet Access Too
Don’t think that governments need to resort to full Internet shutdowns to make it hard for people to get online. They can simply make Internet access unaffordable through taxes or other means.
As we discussed before, Uganda is using social media taxes of just $0.05 per day on Over-the-Top (OTT) social media and instant messaging services to reduce Internet subscribers by 3 million or 18.75%, from 16 million to 13.5 million.
A Pollicy report found that paying the Ugandan social media tax for one month is greater than 6% of their survey respondents total monthly expenditures, especially the 25% of respondents who made less than US$27 per month.
In Zimbabwe, new government monetary policy that introduced Real Time Gross Settlement (RTGs) dollars has led to Econet, Netone and Telecel raising their data tariffs up to 250% to keep up with the benchmark US dollar. This will have the same impact on Internet access as in Uganda – put it out of reach for most.
What Should We Do About Internet Shutdowns?
What is our responsibility, as technology for development practitioners, to stop these shutdowns before they happen, or help constituents circumvent them when governments do restrict Internet access?
Of course, we should be teaching our colleagues about VPNs, Tor, SafeTag, and other secure digital tools, so they can get online when certain sites are blocked, but what to do when the whole network is blocked? Should we preposition VSATs, BGANs, and other satellite Internet links? Or is it better to apply political pressure through international campaigns? Maybe all of the above?
Or are we really helpless and toothless when a sovereign nation decides to flip the Internet off switch?
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