Government Internet Shutdowns Have Cost $17 Billion Since 2019

Deliberate internet outages around the world cost the global economy billions of dollars every year. Our internet shutdowns tracker measures the financial consequences in real-time, while annual reports provide historical data and analysis.
Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns header image showing Myanmar protests

UPDATED 29 Nov to include the latest internet shutdowns in 2021. Additionally, all 2021 data has been refreshed based on the latest economic indicators and FX rates.

Internet Shutdowns: Economic Impact 2019-2021

  • There have been 247 major internet shutdowns in 46 countries since 2019
  • $16.9 billion: total cost to the world economy of government internet outages over this period
  • 2021: 43 internet shutdowns in 21 countries cost $4.8 billion to date
    • 25,016 hours: total duration to date of deliberate internet disruptions around the world
    • Myanmar: most affected nation to date ($2.9 billion), followed by Nigeria and India.
  • 2020: 93 internet shutdowns in 21 countries cost $4.01 billion
    • 27,165 hours: total duration of deliberate internet disruptions, up 49% from the previous year.
    • India: most affected nation in 2020 ($2.8 billion), followed by Belarus and Yemen.
  • 2019: 122 internet shutdowns in 21 countries cost $8.05 billion
    • 18,225 hours: total duration of deliberate internet outages
    • Iraq: most affected nation in 2019 ($2.3 billion), followed by Sudan and India.

What is the Cost of Internet Shutdowns Tracker?

This Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns index tracks the the total economic impact of every major deliberate internet outage and social media shutdown around the world as it happens.

This kind of deliberate disruption is internet censorship in its most extreme form. Not only do these internet outages infringe on citizens’ digital rights but they are also acts of economic self-harm.

The live tracker below shows the total cost of internet shutdowns for the year so far. Annual reports dating back to 2019 provide detailed analysis for each year.

Use the page navigation to jump to the relevant section to see a summary of that year’s key findings and a link to the full report. You can also use the following links to jump straight to those sections:

From 2020 onwards, our internet shutdowns data includes additional human rights abuses perpetrated during these disruptions. We have highlighted these abuses in order to illustrate the wider context in which these incidents of extreme internet censorship take place.

How Do We Calculate The Cost of Internet Shutdowns?

We monitor every national and region-wide internet outage and social media shutdown imposed by governments around the world in order to determine the duration and extent of the restrictions. This allows us to accurately calculate the economic impact of each internet shutdown using the COST tool.

This tool was developed by internet monitoring NGO Netblocks and advocacy groups The Internet Society and CIPESA. It is based on indicators from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat and US Census.

In both our Cost of Internet Shutdowns live tracker and annual reports, we include social media shutdowns, internet blackouts and severe ISP throttling in our calculations. These types of disruption to normal internet access are defined as follows:

  • Internet blackouts: where internet access is completely cut off by the government. This extreme measure cannot be directly circumvented.
  • Social media shutdowns: where access to popular social media, such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Twitter has been blocked. These can typically be circumvented by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
  • Severe throttling: where speeds have been reduced to 2G, which permits the use of SMS and voice calls only. This is an internet blackout in all but name.

Why Are We Tracking The Cost of Internet Shutdowns?

We are fiercely opposed to internet censorship and governments withholding access to the internet as a form of social control.

Our goal in doing this work is to keep public attention focused on just how damaging internet shutdowns truly are. This damage is both direct, in terms of the economic and human cost, and indirect, in that it forces people to use unsafe VPNs to try to circumvent the restrictions imposed upon them.

We are also investigating the companies that provide the technology that make shutdowns possible, such as DNS filtering.

See our live tracker of VPN demand surges around the world

Cost of Internet Shutdowns 2021 Tracker

The following data table shows all countries that have experienced a major internet shutdown to-date in 2021. The table is ordered from greatest to least economic impact, measured in USD.

The data table also indicates the nature of any additional human rights abuses perpetrated during each internet shutdown. A cross indicates that the human right specified was violated during the period around the internet outage.

For data on individual internet shutdowns, see the Cost of Internet Shutdowns Tracker Data Sheet.

Internet Shutdowns Background 2021

The most severe internet outages in 2021 to date have been in Myanmar, following nationwide protests over a military coup in February. After an initial internet blackout, the ruling military junta blocked access to Facebook in the wake of the coup in order to “maintain stability”.[1]

Rolling internet restrictions followed across Myanmar. The junta blocked social media during the day and completely shut down all internet access each night for 72 consecutive nights until 27 April.

Mobile internet in Myanmar was cut completely on March 15. Wireless internet access was cut on April 1.[2]

Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp have been blocked in Myanmar since April 28. Internet access has also been limited since the end of May to government-approved “whitelisted” websites and mobile apps only.[3]

Government internet blackouts in India are again among the most economically damaging in the world. The most costly incidents of internet censorship were the continuation of severe internet throttling in Kashmir until early February[4] and the localized internet blackout during the massive farmers’ protests outside Delhi in late January.[5]

Authorities in Nigeria shut down Twitter indefinitely on June 5 in retaliation for the removal of a tweet by President Muhammadu Buhari for breaching the social media platform’s rules. Access to Twitter was eventually restored in October.

The government blocked social media in Uganda ahead of the presidential elections.[6] This internet censorship helped prevent the spread of information about brutal crackdowns on opposition rallies that left at least 28 dead and many hundreds arrested.[7]

An internet blackout accompanied the military coup in Sudan in October, which led to nationwide protests and at least three people shot dead by troops.[8]

In November, Ethiopians in the Tigray region marked a year since the government blocked their internet access following the outbreak of a vicious civil war.

How Do Governments Shut Down The Internet?

Government internet outages typically take the form of total internet blackouts or social media blocks. Another censorship tactic is internet throttling, where internet speeds are restricted so severely that anything beyond simple text-based communication becomes impossible, such as live-streaming video of protests or human rights abuses.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use a number of methods to implement what governments demand of them when they want to restrict internet access in this way. Some of the most common are below.

Network Shutdown

The most crude method of blocking access to the internet is when governments force ISPs and mobile carriers to to literally power down critical circuits that make up the country’s telecommunications network.

Governments that have complete control over their country’s network may also install an “internet kill-switch”. The UN has condemned the use of such single shut-off mechanisms.

Border Gateway Protocol (BGP) Manipulation

BGP is what allows packets of data to travel from their source to their destination. It works via requiring every network node (known as an Autonomous System or AS) making up the global internet to constantly advertise which IP addresses it gives access to.

These announcements flash back and forth across the whole network, marking the route between any two points on that network, each of which is a cluster of IP addresses. This protocol is what makes it possible to access a website or app hosted in another location.

By manipulating the contents of these announcements, or BGP routing tables, an ISP can make the Internet Protocol (IP) addresses of any number of its customers “disappear” from the internet, effectively cutting off access for those people. This is more precise than a full network shutdown and allows for exceptions to be made, such as for government officials.

IP Address Blocking

Websites and apps rely on web servers to host their content, each of which has its own IP address. This unique numerical address allows devices to find and communicate with each other.

ISPs can create lists of IP addresses that correspond with services they want to block and then block all internet traffic to or from those IP addresses.

As multiple websites and services can be hosted on a single IP address, this method of internet censorship often leads to unintentionally blocking more than was intended.

Domain Name System (DNS) Filtering

DNS filtering works in a similar way to IP blocking but is more precise as it targets the domain name rather than an IP address.

Domain names, such as top10vpn.com, and what they refer to are stored in a database distributed across multiple DNS servers. Browsers rely on intermediate devices called DNS resolvers to perform DNS lookups for specific URLs in these databases and retrieve the relevant destination IP address.

ISPs can program these DNS resolvers to return incorrect information for particular DNS lookups, such as twitter.com not existing. When this happens, users are met with an error page instead of the website or app loading as normal.

Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)

DPI examines the full contents of the data packets making up internet traffic on a network to allow for blocking of specific content or applications. DPI relies on devices between the end user and the rest of the internet, known as middleboxes and which form a key role in internet censorship in places like China. Manufacturers include companies like Huawei and Allot.

DPI is also very effective at throttling speeds for specific types of traffic, such as video or Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP).

As a result, VPNs that actually work in China have to use technology like traffic obfuscation to bypass DPI.

Protocol Blocking

Targeting specific protocols, such as TCP/IP port number is another method for blocking or throttling certain apps associated with known TCP/IP ports.

Governments can use this method to target instant messaging services or email for example to prevent citizens from communicating.

How to Bypass An Internet Shutdown

It’s not possible to bypass a full internet blackout and actually get online in any normal way, however there are still countermeasures available to avoid becoming completely isolated.

Fortunately social media shutdowns and other online content blocks are far more common forms of internet censorship and can be circumvented using the right tools.

EXPERT TIP: In some countries, some of these tools might be outlawed, so it’s important to weigh up any legal risk before proceeding..

VPNs

A VPN works by encrypting a user’s internet connection and changing their IP address. Unless an ISP is able to block every single IP address used by a VPN service or identify VPN traffic and block it, then a VPN will allow a user to easily access sites and apps blocked using IP and DNS filtering.

Governments will often try to block VPN downloads during a social media shutdown. It’s therefore important for anyone living under such regimes to be prepared and download a trustworthy and reliable VPN that works in their country before an internet outage takes place.

Some internet shutdowns will also incorporate protocol blocking to prevent VPNs being used to circumvent them. VPN services that use obfuscation techniques, however, will still work.

Tor

Tor is a free, open-source system designed to enable anonymous communication on the web. The name comes from the original project name: “The Onion Router”. Like a VPN, Tor encrypts your activity and hides your IP address, enabling users to access blocked online services.

For a dissident in a high-censorship regime, the complete anonymity provided by Tor makes it worth the trade-off in terms of speed and usability. For everyone else, a VPN is the better option.

Signal

Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp are frequently affected when governments block social media, making it difficult for loved ones to communicate in countries where these platforms might be the only reliable method of personal communication.

Make sure that you and anyone you might need to contact during an internet outage has installed Signal, which has the added benefit of being more secure than other messaging platforms.

Bluetooth Mesh Networks

Protestors can turn to apps like Bridgefy and FireChat to communicate when governments cut off internet access completely during civil unrest. The apps create local peer-to-peer mesh networks that rely on Bluetooth rather than the internet to exchange messages and data.

Roaming SIM card

If a government internet shutdown appears likely and getting online is critical, it’s worth preparing ahead of time and acquiring international roaming SIM cards from a neighboring country. Foreign mobile carriers will not be affected by any outage and will allow you to get online, albeit at potentially significantly extra cost.

Sneakernet

A sneakernet refers to using human movement to physically deliver information between people affected by an internet outage, or even to smuggle data about what’s happening out of the country. Download and store important information on thumb drives or external hard drives, ideally encrypted using software such as Veracrypt, and give it to someone traveling to the location of your intended recipient.

Cost of Internet Shutdowns 2020 Report

On the anniversary of the start of the Kashmir internet shutdown, a soldier stands guard in a street divided by barbed wire in Aug 2020

On the anniversary of the start of the Kashmir internet shutdown, a soldier stands guard in a street divided by barbed wire in Aug 2020.

The Cost of Internet Shutdowns 2020 annual report was published on Jan 4 2021. This analysis of every major government internet shutdown in 2020 revealed their economic impact on a world economy already ravaged by the coronavirus to be in excess of $4 billion. The report also identified additional human rights abuses associated with each government internet outage.

How Much Did Internet Shutdowns Cost Us in 2020?

  • $4.01 billion: economic cost of internet shutdowns globally in 2020, down by 50% from 2019
  • 93 major internet outages took place in 21 countries in 2020
  • 27,165 hours: total duration of major internet shutdowns around the world, up 49% from the previous year
  • 268 million people affected in 2020, up 3% year-on-year
  • India: had the most costly internet shutdowns, suffering a total loss of $2.8 billion
  • Human rights impact: 42% of deliberate internet shutdowns were associated with additional abuses

Read the full 2020 Cost of Internet Shutdowns Report

Cost of Internet Shutdowns 2019 Report

Government internet outages accompanied protests in Iraq in November 2019

Government internet outages accompanied protests in Iraq in November 2019.

The 2019 Cost of Internet Shutdowns annual report was published on Jan 7 2020. The report analyzed for the first time every major intentional internet outage over the course of a year and calculated the global cost of shutdowns in 2019 to have been over $8 billion.

How Much Did Internet Shutdowns Cost Us in 2019?

  • $8.05 billion: economic cost of internet shutdowns globally in 2019 – an increase of 235% since 2015/16
  • 122 major internet shutdowns took place in 21 countries during 2019
  • 18,225 hours: total duration of major government internet outages around the world
  • Iraq: suffered the most economically from internet blackouts, followed by Sudan and India
  • WhatsApp: most-blocked platform, experiencing 6,236 total hours of government internet censorship

Read the full 2019 Cost of Internet Shutdowns Report

Internet Shutdowns Research Methodology

We review every documented government internet outage and social media shutdown globally in a given year.

We include deliberate national internet shutdowns along with regional disruptions that are on a sufficient scale to be economically significant.

The nature, duration and severity of each internet outage are sourced from Netblocks real-time graphic data and reports, IODA and the SFLC.IN Internet Shutdown Tracker.

The economic cost of each internet shutdown is calculated using the Netblocks and the Internet Society’s Cost of Shutdown Tool, which is based on the Brookings Institution method, with CIPESA’s specialized model used for sub-Saharan Africa. Regional shutdown costs are derived from the region’s economic output as a proportion of national GDP.

Partial internet outages are calculated as a proportion of the above costs based on the most up-to-date internet market-share information publicly available for the affected country.

For 2021 data, the tool’s results are modified based on the current exchange rate between the local currency and the USD at the time of the shutdown. This is because the COST tool is based on 2019 exchange rates.

Internet user data is sourced from the World Bank and government reports.

Additional research by Christine O’Donnell

The authors of all our investigations abide by the journalists’ code of conduct.

References

[1] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-55923486

[2] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-myanmar-politics-internet/myanmar-orders-wireless-internet-shutdown-until-further-notice-telecoms-sources-idUSKBN2BO5H2?il=0

[3] https://www.article19.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Myanmar-Internet-Briefing-Paper-UPDATED.pdf

[4] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/india-restores-4g-mobile-internet-kashmir-after-18-month-ban-n1256930

[5] https://edition.cnn.com/2021/02/01/asia/india-internet-cut-farmers-intl-hnk/index.html

[6] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-uganda-election/uganda-bans-social-media-ahead-of-presidential-election-idUSKBN29H0KH

[7] https://www.upf.go.ug/28-dead-577-arrested-in-the-violent-political-and-criminal-protests/

[8] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/10/30/sudanese-gear-up-for-nationwide-protests-against-military-coup