Economic impact of internet shutdowns from 2019-2023 as governments get bolder

Government internet disruptions have cost the global economy $42.71 billion since 2019, and resulted in 445 significant internet shutdowns in 54 countries, according to data gathered by Top10VPN.

In 2023 alone, 65 internet shutdowns in 13 countries with a total duration of 16,611 hours have cost the global economy $1.18 billion.

Ethiopia is the most affected nation this year to date ($484.4 million), followed by India and Pakistan.

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. 

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The internet has become an integral part of our modern lives, driving economic growth, fostering innovation, and connecting people across the globe. However, in recent years, this alarming trend of internet shutdowns keeps getting bolder as a means to control information flow, suppress dissent, and address security concerns.

Internet shutdowns from 2019-2023

Shutdowns can cost high-connectivity countries up to 1.9% of their GDP per day. Shutdowns in India are estimated to have cost the country over $3 billion since 2012, according to a report published by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations last year.

A study conducted by Deloitte for Facebook in 2016

Flashback: In 2018, there were 196 documented internet shutdowns across 25 countries, primarily in Asia and Africa, according to a report released by the Keep It On coalition. Since the Arab Spring of 2011, when censorship ran rife across North Africa and the Middle East, internet shutdowns have been widely associated with authoritarian regimes.

Governments are getting bolder despite the spread of the gospel of Democracy, and, by default, fundamental human rights.

In 2019, there were 134 reported internet shutdowns in 22 countries which cost $8.07 billion.

  • 19,207 hours: total duration of deliberate internet outages.
  • WhatsApp: most-blocked platform, experiencing 7,044 total hours of government internet censorship

That year, the Iraq government pulled the plug and it cost $2.3 billion, followed by Sudan and India.

Iraq saw mass civilian protests from 2018-19, leading to internet shutdowns.
Picture Alliance/Getty

According to Hayder Hamzoz, CEO and founder of the Iraqi Network for Social Media, not since 2003 and the regime of Saddam Hussein has internet censorship been so severe.

In 2020, there were 93 internet shutdowns in 21 countries which cost $4.01 billion.

  • 27,165 hours: total duration of deliberate internet disruptions, up 42% from the previous year.

India was the most affected nation ($2.8 billion), followed by Belarus and Yemen.

In 2019, the country imposed an internet shutdown of 4,196 hours, impacting about 8.4 million people. By 2020, authorities continued to severely throttle internet speeds with citizens only able to access 2G connections. This majorly limited access for medicines, businesses and schools for the local people.

In 2021, there were 50 internet shutdowns in 21 countries which cost $5.45 billion.

  • 30,179 hours: total duration of deliberate internet disruptions, 11% more than the year before.

Myanmar was the most affected nation in 2021 ($2.8 billion), followed by Nigeria and India.

On February 1, a military coup took place in Myanmar. In the weeks after, as people protested, scrambled for information, and attempted to document the events, authorities took turns between shutting down and reinstating the internet and blocked social media platforms while they played around.

Internet shutdowns in Myanmar, 2021
Internet shutdown in Myanmar, 2021
Credit: NYT

The nationwide shutdown was implemented overnight and lifted on February 15, 2021. 

Myanmar’s draft cybersecurity bill is already instilling a fear of surveillance and being persecuted for what you say and do online. Everyone from journalists to digital security providers to civil society actors — and all those in between — are at risk,” said Raman Jit Singh Chima, Asia-Pacific Policy Director and Senior International Counsel at Access Now. 

Listen: #40 Techbytes: Internet Shutdowns–A Threat to Democracy

The gagging of telecom and ICT firms from being able to report on government orders concerning internet shutdowns, web censorship, or user surveillance is very concerning. Given the evolving situation and suppression of free media on the ground, the ability of telecom firms to provide information about the government directives they receive is key.”

In 2022, there were 114 internet shutdowns in 23 countries which cost $23.84 billion.

  • 50,065 hours: total duration in 2022 of deliberate internet outages globally, up 45% vs 2021.

Russia was the most affected nation ($21.59 billion), followed by Myanmar and Kazakhstan.

After Russian authorities launched the infamous military invasion of Ukraine, the government blocked prominent social media platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and issued massive fines to other platforms that refused to remove content and localise user data.

The government, Roskomnadzor, the media regulator, also restricted access to over 5,000 websites after the invasion was launched, including Ukrainian and other foreign news sites and domestic news sites that provided accurate coverage of the war.

Roskomnadzor launched an unprecedented campaign against Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), blocking over 20 of them during the coverage period.

In 2023 [up to June 6, 2023], there have been 65 internet shutdowns in 13 countries costing $1.18 billion.

  • 16,611 hours: total duration in 2023 to date of deliberate internet disruptions around the world.

Ethiopia has been the most affected nation ($484.4 million), followed by India and Pakistan.

Following tensions caused by the disagreement in Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church, the government blocked social media platforms from February 9, 2023, as the Church leaders threatened to call for country-wide rallies and counter-rallies.

Internet shutdowns in Ethiopia
Internet shutdowns in Ethiopia
Photo: Worldcrunch

By March 2023, more than one month after Ethiopia blocked internet access, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, Flavia Mwangovya said:

Ethiopian authorities have, for a month now, blocked people in the country from accessing selected social media platforms such as Facebook, Telegram, Tik Tok and YouTube. The authorities thus continue to violate people’s right to freedom of expression, which includes the freedom to seek, receive and impart information.”

Overview of internet shutdowns in Africa

Several countries, including Cameroon, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Zimbabwe, experienced significant disruptions to internet access, either partially or entirely. These shutdowns were enacted during times of political unrest, elections, or social movements, ostensibly to maintain order or suppress dissent. However, their economic ramifications extend far beyond the immediate disruptions.

What are the numbers?

Sudan was the most affected country in Africa in 2019, losing $1.9 billion, and affecting 12.5 million [48%] users out of a total of 25.9 million internet users.

This is followed by Algeria, whose government shut down the internet for 50 hours. The economy lost $199.8 million, and it affected 19.7 million.

Country (2019) Total shutdown (hrs) Cost ($ million) Internet users affected (million)
Ethiopia 346 $56.8 million 19.5 million
Zimbabwe 144 $34.5 million 4.5 million
Mauritania 264 $13.8 million 0.9 million
Egypt 24 $3.8 million 43.9 million
Bénin 21 $1.1 million 1.6 million
Gabon 29 $1.1 million 1.0 million
Liberia 12 $0.1 million 377,000
Data: Top10VPN

In 2020, Ethiopia was the most affected. The country lost $111.3 million, shutting off 19.5 million internet users.

Sudan follows with a loss of $68.7 million, affecting 13.5 million users for 36 hours.

Nigeria joined the list in 2021, shutting down social media for 5,040 hours, costing $1.5 billion, and affecting 104.4 million users.

Ethiopia lost $164.5 million in 2021, shutting down the internet for 8,864 hours, hitting 21.3 million internet users.

Country (2021) Total shutdown (hrs) Cost ($ million) Internet users affected (million)
Sudan 777 $157.4 13.2
Uganda 692 $109.7 10.6
Burkina Faso 192 $35.9 10.9
Republic of Congo 72 $2.5 1.5
Zambia 48 $1.8 2.6
Chad 29 $1.6 1.1
Senegal 7 $0.3 4.9
South Sudan 24 $0.3 0.9
Data: Top10VPN

In 2022, Ethiopia lost $179.9 million to 8,760 hours of internet shutdown, causing a blackout for 1,767,500 internet users. In the same year, Nigeria lost $82.7 million to 287 hours of social media shutdown for 104,400,000 users.

Country (2022) Total shutdown (hrs) Cost ($ million) Internet users affected (million)
Sudan 74 $17.8 13.2
Burkina Faso 380 $12.6 3.9
Algeria 24 $8 25.2
Zimbabwe 12 $1.6 5
Sierra Leone 9 $0.3 2.67
Somaliland 10 $0.1 1.26
Data: Top10VPN

“The most severe internet outages in 2023 to date have been in Ethiopia, where authorities blocked access to Facebook and YouTube following an escalation of religious tensions in early February. While the schism in the Orthodox Church was resolved within days, the social media restrictions were ongoing at the time of publication [June 2023],” Top10VPN says in its report.

How do government implement internet shutdowns?

Per the report, “Government internet shutdowns happen either through 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 videos of protests or human rights abuses.

Internet Service Providers (ISPs) use a number of methods to implement restrictions:

The impact of internet shutdowns:

Direct Economic Losses:
Internet shutdowns result in substantial direct economic losses for individuals, businesses, and the overall economy. Access to digital platforms and online services is crucial for various sectors, including e-commerce, financial services, and tourism.

Disruptions to these sectors due to internet shutdowns lead to decreased productivity, disrupted supply chains, and financial losses for businesses. Additionally, online platforms for payment systems, remittances, and e-commerce suffer severe setbacks, negatively impacting the livelihoods of individuals and hindering economic growth.

Investment and Business Environment:
Internet shutdowns send a negative signal to international investors and hinder the development of a favourable business environment. Uncertainty surrounding political stability and the risk of future shutdowns discourage foreign direct investment, impede entrepreneurship, and dampen investor confidence. The lack of reliable and uninterrupted internet access raises concerns about data security, inhibiting the growth of digital industries and stifling technological innovation.

Digital Divide and Access to Opportunities:
Internet shutdowns exacerbate the existing digital divide, disproportionately affecting marginalised communities and hindering their access to opportunities. Limited or no internet connectivity restricts access to online educational resources, job opportunities, and digital skills training. This further deepens socioeconomic inequalities and hampers efforts to bridge the digital divide in the region.

International Trade and Connectivity:
In an increasingly globalised world, internet shutdowns disrupt international trade and connectivity. Cross-border communication, online collaboration, and digital transactions are vital for businesses engaged in international trade. When internet shutdowns sever these connections, trade disruptions occur, causing delays, financial losses, and hindrances to economic integration.

Long-Term Implications:
The long-term implications of recurring internet shutdowns are far-reaching. The erosion of trust in digital infrastructure and a stifled digital economy hamper Africa’s prospects for sustainable development. Investment in broadband infrastructure, technological innovation, and digital literacy initiatives may be delayed or neglected, impeding progress toward a digital and knowledge-based economy.

What to do when the government decides to shut internet services down

For Africans, simply use VPN.