Government Internet Shutdowns Cost $8 Billion in 2019

Our report analyzes every major internet shutdown around the world in 2019 and reveals this growing trend cost the global economy over $8 billion last year.
Protests in Iraq that prompted the government to cut internet access

This is an historical report, for the latest data and all other resources, see our the main Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns page.

Internet Shutdowns: Economic Impact in 2019

  • $8.05 billion: economic cost of internet shutdowns globally in 2019 – an increase of 235% since 2015/16
  • 122 major internet outages took place in 21 countries during 2019
  • 18,225 hours: total duration of major internet shutdowns around the world
    • Internet blackouts: 11,857 hours
    • Social media blocks: 6,368 hours
  • Iraq: experienced most costly internet shutdowns, followed by Sudan and India
  • WhatsApp: most-blocked social media platform with 6,236 total hours of deliberately disrupted access

How We Track The Impact of Internet Shutdowns

This Global Cost of Internet Shutdowns in 2019 report identifies the total economic impact of every major internet blackout and social media shutdown around the world that year.

We collated every national and region-wide government internet outage, determined the duration of the internet restrictions and used the COST tool to calculate their economic impact.

This tool, developed by internet monitoring NGO Netblocks and advocacy group The Internet Society, uses indicators from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat and US Census.

We calculated over 18,000 hours of deliberately disrupted internet access around the world in 2019 to have cost the global economy $8.05 billion. This represents a 235% increase in impact compared to $2.4 billion in 2015/16, according to the most recently available analysis.

Jump straight to economic impact of internet shutdowns data by region and by country.

We also found that there were more internet shutdowns in 2019 than ever before. We included in this report 122 major internet outages, ie that were national or region-wide in their impact, that took place during 2019.

However once you include the 90-plus smaller internet blackouts in India[1] plus other localized and partial restrictions, it’s clear that the record total of 196 documented internet shutdowns set in 2018 has been surpassed.[2]

What Is An Internet Shutdown?

“An internet shutdown is an intentional disruption of internet or electronic communications, rendering them inaccessible or effectively unusable, for a specific population or within a location, often to exert control over the flow of information.” – Access Now[3]

In this report, we have included social media shutdowns and internet blackouts in our calculations. These types of internet disruption are defined as follows:

  • Internet blackouts: where internet access is completely cut. This extreme form of internet censorship cannot be directly bypassed.
  • Social media shutdowns: where access to popular social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook or YouTube have been blocked. These can typically be bypassed using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).

During our analysis of every internet shutdown in 2019, some general trends emerged. Government internet outages often occur in response to protests or civil unrest, especially surrounding elections, as authoritarian regimes look to restrict the flow of information online and maintain their grip on power.

In economic terms, disruptions not only affect the formal economy but also the informal, especially in less well-developed nations. There can also be lasting damage with the loss of investor confidence and faltering development, all of which makes our estimates conservative.

On the human rights side, these shutdowns clearly impact citizens’ freedom of expression and the right to information and may even result in an increase in violence.[4]

Despite their negative impact on the global economy, human rights and democratic processes, there is little to suggest that internet shutdowns will stop in 2020.

See all of our Cost of Internet Shutdowns research

Internet Shutdown Cost By Region

Region Internet Shutdown Duration (Hrs) Internet Shutdown Total Cost
Middle East & N. Africa 577 $3.14 billion
Sub-Saharan Africa 7,800 $2.16 billion
Asia 9,677 $1.68 billion
South America 171 $1.07 billion
Global 18,225 $8.05 billion

Internet Shutdown Cost by Country

The following data table shows the economic cost of all major internet Internet Shutdowns in 2019 by country where the internet outages occurred. Ranking is highest to lowest economic impact, measured in USD.

Click on the country name links to jump to background information about the individual incidents of internet disruption.

Rank Country Internet Shutdown Duration (Hrs) Internet Shutdown Cost Internet Users
1 Iraq 263 $2.3 billion 18.8 million
2 Sudan 1,560 $1.9 billion 12.5 million
3 India – specific regions [1] 4,196 $1.3 billion 8.4 million
4 Venezuela 171 $1.1 billion 20.7 million
5 Iran 240 $611.7 million 49.0 million
6 Algeria 50 $199.8 million 19.7 million
7 Indonesia [2] 416 $187.7 million 29.4 million
8 Chad [3] 4,728 $125.9 million 1.0 million
9 Sri Lanka 337 $83.9 million 7.1 million
10 Myanmar – Rakhine, Chin 4,880 $75.2 million 0.1 million
11 DRC 456 $61.2 million 7.0 million
12 Ethiopia 346 $56.8 million 19.5 million
13 Zimbabwe 144 $34.5 million 4.5 million
14 Mauritania 264 $13.8 million 0.9 million
15 Pakistan – Azad Kashmir 88 $5.6 million No data
16 Egypt 24 $3.8 million 43.9 million
17 Kazakhstan 7.5 $2.6 million 13.9 million
18 Bénin 21 $1.1 million 1.6 million
19 Gabon 29 $1.1 million 1.0 million
20 Eritrea 240 $0.4 million 0.1 million
21 Liberia 12 $0.1 million 377K

[1] Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Jammu and Kashmir, Meghalaya, Rajasthan, Tripura and Uttar Pradesh only. Back to top of table.

[2] 338 hours of specified internet outage duration applied to Papua region only. Back to top of table.

[3] Internet outage duration/cost figures refer to 2019 impact only and do not take into consideration preceding months of restrictions over 2018. Back to top of table.

Internet Shutdowns By Platform

The following table shows the total duration of social media shutdowns by platform in 2019. Note the majority of these disruptions took place concurrently.

Platform Shutdown Duration (Hrs)
WhatsApp 6,236
Facebook 6,208
Instagram 6,193
Twitter 5,860
Youtube 684

Internet Shutdown Costs: Country By Country

The following sections of the report examine the circumstances around each instance of governments cutting or restricting internet access.

We have looked at each country individually and broken out the duration of each type of internet outage. Countries are ordered and grouped according to the total economic impact of their government’s internet restrictions over the course of 2019.

Use the following links to jump straight to the relevant country-by-country section:

Countries with Internet Shutdown Costs Over $1 Billion

Iraq

  • Internet blackouts: 209 hours
  • Social media shutdowns: 54 hours
  • Total cost of internet outages: $2.3 billion

The most significant internet blackouts were in October amid anti-government protests due to rising unemployment, failing public services and corruption. The internet outages formed part of a brutal government clampdown that claimed at least 220 lives and injured many more.[5][6]

“In cutting communication links, authorities hoped to curtail the demonstrators’ ability to organize.” – The Guardian[7]

The government also cut internet access in June and September to prevent cheating in national exams.

Sudan

  • Internet blackouts: 864 hours
  • Social media shutdowns: 696 hours
  • Total cost of internet outages: $1.9 billion

January- February: A 68-day social media shutdown that began in December 2018 (NB: we’re only counting financial loss from Jan 1 2019) was implemented after protests erupted across the country calling on Omar al-Bashir, who had been in power for thirty years, to step down.[8]

“Since December, internet users in Sudan have resorted to VPN circumvention tools to remain connected to social platforms.” – Netblocks[9]

April: The government blocked access to social media once more as demonstrations increased in intensity. The internet restrictions tried – and failed – to stop the circulation of social media posts like the tweet below, which was retweeted almost 60,000 times, becoming iconic in the process.

Social media access was restored after al-Bashir finally declared that he would step down after top military generals turned against the ruler.

June – July: The government cut internet access as protests continued following a military coup. The goal of these internet restrictions was to prevent evidence of government abuses of human rights, such as the recovery of at least 40 bodies from the River Nile,[10] from circulating online. The internet disruption persisted until the protests ended with the formal establishment of a transitional government at the beginning of August.

India

Specific regions only

  • Internet blackouts: 4,196 hours
  • Social media shutdowns: N/A
  • Total cost of internet outages: $1.3 billion

The Indian government imposes internet restrictions more often than anyone else, with over 100 deliberate internet shutdowns documented in 2019.

Many of these internet outages were highly-targeted, even down to the level of blacking out internet access in individual city districts for a few hours while security forces try to restore order. We excluded many of these incidents from this report, which instead focuses on larger, region-wide and national shutdowns.

The full economic impact of internet shutdowns in India is therefore likely to be higher even than our $1.3 billion figure.

The most significant internet outages have been in the turbulent Kashmir region, where after intermittent internet shutdowns in the first half of 2019, internet access has been blocked since August.[11]

“The [Kashmir] shutdown is now the longest ever imposed in a democracy.” – The Washington Post[12]

Indian authorities have attempted to justify the internet blackout on national security grounds due to unrest in Kashmir following their controversial decision to strip India’s only Muslim-majority region of its autonomy.

Elsewhere the government cut internet access in many districts of Uttar Pradesh in December, along with the nearby regions of Arunachal Pradesh, Tripura, Assam and Meghalaya,[14][15] following violent reactions to another change to Indian law, which has been viewed as another bid to marginalize the country’s Muslim minority.

The other major internet outage also had its root in religious tensions. A Supreme Court decision in November ruling on the dispute over the Ayodhya holy site that’s simmered between Hindus and Muslims for over a century[16] prompted internet shutdowns “to avoid the spread of misinformation” in Aligarh, Uttar Pradesh, and also in the Rajashthan region.[17]

Venezuela

  • Internet blackouts: 60 hours
  • Social media shutdowns: 111 hours
  • Total cost of internet outages: $1.1 billion

The Venezuelan government responded with aggressive, rolling internet restrictions when the nation was plunged into constitutional crisis in January after National Assembly President Juan Guaidó disputed the presidency by declaring himself interim president of the country.[18] This was in response to elections that had been widely denounced as illegitimate.[19]

The government’s internet outages were highly strategic. Frequent, short-lived and highly-targeted blocks of social media platforms aimed to prevent live streams of Guaidó being widely shared. YouTube was the most heavily targeted platform, often being blocked for just an hour at a time.

Cantv, the country’s largest telecom firm, is a state-owned operator, which made it easier to implement nationwide internet shutdowns.

Several nationwide electricity blackouts also prevented internet access during the crisis, [20] however these were excluded from our data as they were not deliberate internet outages.

Notably, the government blocked access to Wikipedia in January, following an “edit war” over the legitimate president.[21]

Countries with Internet Shutdown Costs of $100 million – $1 billion

Iran

  • Internet blackouts: 240 hours
  • Social media shutdowns: N/A
  • Total cost of internet outages: $611.7 million

Iranian authorities cut internet access in November following the outbreak of widespread protests in response to fuel price hikes.[22]

It took at least 24 hours for the internet shutdown to take full effect, due to the large number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) active in the country.

At least 304 people died in the protests according to Amnesty,[23] adding further weight to the claim that authoritarian governments are using internet shutdowns to prevent images and videos of their repressive actions and human rights abuses from leaking to the outside world.

There was a further 24-hour shutdown in December due to anti-government protests.[24]

Notably, Iran has also been developing its own intranet, the National Information Network, for several years, in similar fashion to Russia’s RUnet.[25]

Algeria

  • Internet blackouts: 47 hours
  • Social media shutdowns: 3 hours
  • Total cost of internet outages: $199.8 million

June: The Algerians government cut internet access while students were sitting exams.[26] This was the third year in a row that such harsh, sweeping measures were imposed to prevent cheating.

August: The government blocked Youtube for three hours following the publication of a video by an ex-Algerian defence minister calling for the public to oust military leader Ahmed Gaid Salah.[27]

September: A 36-hour internet blackout was imposed at the same time as the announcement of presidential elections to be held in December 2019.[28]

Indonesia

  • Internet blackouts: 338 hours
  • Social media shutdowns: 78 hours
  • Total cost of internet outages: $187.7 million

National: The 78-hour social media shutdown was implemented as riots erupted in Jakarta in May after presidential election results were announced.[29]

The government tried to justify the internet outage as necessary to stop the spread of disinformation and “fake news” that would further inflame tensions.

Papua: Indonesia’s major internet blackouts were confined to the Papua region, where there were two separate shutdowns following civil unrest.[30] While one was very short, the other lasted two weeks.

Chad

  • Internet blackouts: N/A
  • Social media shutdowns: 4,728 hours
  • Total cost of internet outages: $125.9 million

Chad endured the longest social media shutdown in the world; starting in March 2018 ending in July 2019.

The situation was so severe that Internet Without Borders was forced to intervene and campaign to provide VPN and data access to human rights defenders in the country (full disclosure: Top10VPN.com was a major donor).

Social media restrictions began after the country’s parliament recommended a constitutional change that would allow President Idriss Déby to stay in power until 2033.

Note that the economic impact of this record internet shutdown is greatly reduced by the fact that only 6.5% of the population had access to the internet.[31]

Countries with Internet Shutdown Costs of $25-100 million

Sri Lanka

  • Internet blackouts: N/A
  • Social media shutdowns: 337 hours
  • Total cost of internet outages: $83.9 million

The Sri Lankan government blocked access to social media under the guise of preventing the spread of misinformation following a devastating series of bomb attacks on Easter Sunday that claimed 253 lives.[32]

This largely took place over two periods, first over 10 days immediately following the bombings and then again two weeks later, for another five days.

VPN usage rocketed dramatically during the internet disruptions, as Sri Lankans depend particularly heavily on Facebook and WhatsApp for communication.[33]

Myanmar

  • Internet blackouts: 4,632 hours
  • Social media shutdowns: N/A
  • Total cost of internet outages: $75.2 million

The Myanmar government blocked internet access in nine townships in the Rakhine and Chin regions in June 2019. Internet access was restored in five of the townships in September but the internet outages are ongoing in the other four, despite international protests by human rights organizations.[34]

The poverty-stricken and isolated region in west Myanmar, which borders Bangladesh, has a turbulent history. It was the home of the Rohingya Muslims before sectarian violence and official mistreatment caused hundreds of thousands to flee in 2017, prompting the world’s biggest refugee crisis.[35] Today, it remains a civil warzone as local insurgents the Arakan Army fight for greater autonomy.

The ongoing internet blackout is thought to be hiding evidence of further human rights abuses as military intervention intensifies in the region.[36]

“Such telecommunications embargoes can be designed to foil members of the political opposition… and they can particularly hurt vulnerable communities in conflict areas, who depend on internet connections to keep them out of the crossfire or publicize abuses in remote locations.” – New York Times[37]

DRC

  • Internet blackouts: 456 hours
  • Social media shutdowns: N/A
  • Total cost of internet outages: $61.2 million

Internet access, along with SMS, was cut completely for 20 days in the Democratic Republic of Congo following elections. The government claimed it was to “avoid chaos”.[38]

The internet outage prompted an international outcry and was denounced by the United Nations, who called on the DRC government to restore access:

“A general network shutdown is in clear violation of international law and cannot be justified by any means.” – the U.N.[39]

Ethiopia

  • Internet blackouts: 274 hours
  • Social media shutdowns: 72 hours
  • Total cost of internet outages: $56.8 million

The Ethiopian government imposed a series of internet and social media blackouts over the month of June.[40]

There was no official comment explaining the internet outages, which were imposed during nationwide exam period. While there was speculation that the internet restrictions were intended to prevent cheating, access remained blocked during weekend periods when there were no exams being held.[41]

There were also an internet outage imposed later in the month which followed an attempted coup in the Amhara region, which lasted for over 100 hours.[42]

Zimbabwe

  • Internet blackouts: 144 hours
  • Social media shutdowns: N/A
  • Total cost of internet outages: $34.5 million

The Zimbabwe government cut internet access for a week as it tried to quell unrest over a 150% spike in fuel prices in January 2019. Mobile VPN downloads surged 250% in 2019 as a result.

Countries with Internet Shutdown Costs Under $25 million

Authorities cut internet access in Mauritania in late June, following disputed presidential elections. The internet outage, along with other violations of press freedoms, was heavily criticized as contributing to “a climate of fear”.[43]

Internet access was blocked in the Pakistan-controlled portion of Kashmir in September[44] in response to protests over India’s controversial decision to strip autonomy from the parts of Kashmir under its jurisdiction.[45]

Egypt continued to aggressively censor opposition and news websites throughout 2019.[46][47] However, the only internet disruption that qualified as an internet shutdown for this report was when Egyptian authorities blocked Facebook Messenger amid protests in September.[48]

Kazakhstan blocked internet access on its national election day in May after several months of political discontent.[49]

An internet shutdown was imposed in Bénin in April while citizens cast their votes in national elections.[50]

The Gabon government enforced an internet blackout for over a day in early January as security forces put down an attempted coup against President Ali Bongo by renegade soldiers.[51]

Eritrea, the most censored country in the world in 2019, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists watchdog, strictly controls all internet access within its borders.[52] Even this limited internet access was revoked in May in the lead up to its Independence Day to prevent potential protestors from organizing online.[53]

Liberia implemented its first-ever social media shutdown in June as a “security measure” in response to a major planned protest.

Methodology

We reviewed every documented internet blackout and social media shutdown globally in 2019. The inclusion criteria for an internet shutdown was based on the totality of the cut at the national or regional scale. For the purposes of this research, internet outages due to natural disasters or infrastructural failures were not included, nor were outage days prior to 2019 for ongoing incidents.

Internet shutdown nature, duration and severity was sourced primarily from Netblocks real-time graphic data and reports, and the SFLC.IN Internet Shutdown Tracker. Additional open-sourced information used came from Access Now and reputable news reports.

Internet shutdown costs were derived from the Netblocks and the Internet Society’s Cost of Shutdown Tool based on the Brookings Institution method. Regional internet outage costs were calculated by determining the region’s economic output as a proportion of national GDP.

Regional internet shutdown costs were calculated as a proportion of national costs, based on a region’s economic contribution to national GDP. In the case of Myanmar, where official regional GDP data was not available, costs were based on the internet users in the affected area as a proportion of total internet users.

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

Download the 2019 cost of internet shutdowns data sheet as a Google Sheet or as a PDF.

Additional research by Christine O’Donnell


Main image: People take part in a protest in Baghdad, Iraq, on 29 Oct 2019 that prompted the government to cut internet access. Credit: Khalil Dawood/Xinhua/Alamy Live News.

References

[1] https://internetshutdowns.in/

[2] https://www.accessnow.org/the-state-of-internet-shutdowns-in-2018/

[3] https://www.accessnow.org/keepiton/

[4] https://theconversation.com/shutting-down-social-media-does-not-reduce-violence-but-rather-fuels-it-115960

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-50225055

[6] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-protests-baghdad-internet-blackout-curfew-a9141686.html

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/oct/03/internet-down-across-iraq-third-day-protests

[8] https://qz.com/africa/1589356/sudan-protests-cuts-off-electricity-social-media-shutdown/

[9] https://netblocks.org/reports/social-media-access-restored-across-sudan-noy9dnB3

[10] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/04/world/africa/sudan-war-facts-history.html

[11] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/145-days-of-internet-shutdown-in-kashmir-no-word-on-service-restoration/articleshow/72996839.cms

[12] https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/indias-internet-shutdown-in-kashmir-is-now-the-longest-ever-in-a-democracy/2019/12/15/bb0693ea-1dfc-11ea-977a-15a6710ed6da_story.html

[13] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-50670393

[14] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/internet-services-snapped-21-up-districts-dgp-op-singh-1631890-2019-12-27

[15] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/amid-anti-citizenship-bill-protests-internet-shutdown-in-tripura-arunachal/story-jqR4jxiJexKbKIivV6XZBP.html

[16] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-50065277

[17] https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/mobile-internet-services-rajasthan-ayodhya-verdict-1617655-2019-11-10

[18] https://slate.com/technology/2019/01/venezuela-internet-shutdown-censorship-filtering-protests.html

[19] https://edition.cnn.com/2018/05/20/americas/venezuela-elections/index.html

[20] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-49079175

[21] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Block_of_Wikipedia_in_Venezuela

[22] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-50444429

[23] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/12/iran-thousands-arbitrarily-detained-and-at-risk-of-torture-in-chilling-post-protest-crackdown/

[24] https://netblocks.org/reports/partial-internet-disruption-registered-in-iran-oAvqX18Y

[25] https://en.radiofarda.com/a/iran-says-its-intranet-almost-ready-to-shield-country-from-harmful-internet/29952836.html

[26] https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/algeria-block-internet-access-during-school-exams

[27] https://netblocks.org/reports/algeria-blocks-youtube-and-google-services-after-publication-of-political-video-W80ZajBK

[28] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/09/algeria-hold-presidential-election-december-12-gov-190916052258146.html

[29] https://techcrunch.com/2019/05/22/indonesia-restricts-whatsapp-and-instagram/

[30] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/09/indonesia-restores-internet-access-parts-west-papua-190905040815981.html

[31] https://edition.cnn.com/2019/07/17/africa/chad-restores-internet-intl/index.html

[32] https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-48022530

[33] https://edition.cnn.com/asia/live-news/sri-lanka-easter-bombings-investigation-intl/h_47794a389b04c86b2fc7edf2ec753d39

[34] https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/06/28/myanmar-internet-shutdown-risks-lives

[35] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-41566561

[36] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Rakhine_State_clashes

[37] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/02/world/asia/internet-shutdown-myanmar-rakhine.html

[38] https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/dr-congo-internet-restored-20-day-suspension-elections-190120062941741.html

[39] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=24057&LangID=E

[40] https://qz.com/africa/1646789/ethiopia-tech-startups-hurt-by-social-media-block-internet-shutdown/

[41] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-48653392

[42] https://www.voanews.com/africa/internet-restored-ethiopia-10-days-after-assassinations

[43] https://rsf.org/en/news/mauritania-still-violating-press-freedom-after-restoring-internet

[44] https://netblocks.org/reports/pakistan-shuts-down-internet-in-kashmir-restricts-access-in-punjab-and-beyond-3Anw7dB2

[45] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-india-49234708

[46] https://netblocks.org/reports/egypt-filters-34000-domains-in-bid-to-block-opposition-campaign-platform-7eA1blBp

[47] https://cpj.org/blog/2019/05/egypt-tests-new-censorship-law-with-handling-of-al.php

[48] https://netblocks.org/reports/facebook-messenger-social-media-and-news-sites-disrupted-in-egypt-amid-protests-eA1Jd7Bp

[49] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-news-from-elsewhere-48187353

[50] https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/04/benin-internet-shutdown-on-election-day-is-a-blunt-attack/

[51] https://cpj.org/2019/01/gabon-shuts-down-the-internet-and-broadcasting-ser.php

[52] https://cpj.org/reports/2019/09/10-most-censored-eritrea-north-korea-turkmenistan-journalist.php

[53] https://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/africa/Social-media-shut-in-Eritrea/4552902-5117462-10haojg/index.html