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

By Wayan Vota on May 23, 2019

internet access shutdown

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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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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14 Comments to “Did You Notice that Chad is Offline for a Year? It’s Not Alone”

  1. Cavin Mugarura says:

    This is a good joke, why is London missing from the examples, could be a case of ignorance or it would not fit the narrative that such things only happen in Africa and Asia.

    • Wayan Vota says:

      Why should London be included? Did the UK do a city-wide shutdown of Internet access? Not that I’ve seen. However, India is a interesting example – even the world’s largest democracy uses the Internet to censor people.

      • Cavin Mugarura says:

        That’s why it’s good to write articles when you have done some basic reading, in order not to look uninformed, as you talk about Internet shutdowns in Africa and Asia, read about the same in London and Paris, education is free on the internet or has there been a shutdown in your neck of the woods. As you look for the speck in Africa and Asia, it would be helpful to remove the log in your own eye, it might prevent you from tunnel vision.
        And the line that we need to teach developing countries how to use tools like TOR and VPNs really stems from ignorance. Internet hacking in these dirt poor countries has existed from day one, these kids can teach ICT experts in developed countries a lesson or two. Read a book and then write an article based on knowledge not ignorance.

        • Wayan Vota says:

          Cavin, rather than reverting to insults, please provide a link to where London or Paris experienced a government-mandated Internet shutdown.

  2. Benjamin Bach says:

    I’m afraid that technical solutions (VPN etc) to circumvent surveillance and content filtering will only serve to push small countries like Chad with less resources to simply attack and control the infrastructure, rather than the traffic flows.

    For one thing, we need international organizations to step in and apply pressure. We should talk even more about the Internet as a human right, and shutting it down as a violation.

    Oh, and a reminder that it *is* a human right: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_Internet_access

  3. Aaron Smith says:

    Wow, I’m shocked, SHOCKED I SAY, that 3rd world dictatorships are doing this. And in Africa of continents.

    • Wayan Vota says:

      Aaron, please note that India – the world’s largest democracy – is also an offender. Its no “3rd word dictatorship”

      • Benjamin Bach says:

        And “3rd world” is a term from the cold war, please update your world view, Aaron 😛

  4. Cavin Mugarura says:

    I once read an article here, and the authors claimed Ethiopia is a fintech haven. Luckily the authors were very clear, their article was based on desk research and have never stepped in Addis. I fell off my chair reading the hilarious piece. It’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than to get an internet connection in that beautiful part of Africa. Luckily, we live in times of many ‘experts’, who know little to nothing, beyond posting articles. The most interesting use cases of internet shutdowns are to prevent widespread examination leaks. Back in the day, examination leaks were traded by snake oil salesmen on a bicycle, today with platforms such as whatsapp, the papers are circulated nationwide in seconds. Internet shutdowns have a good side, people become more tech savvy, 5 years ago less than 1% of the population knew what a VPN was, now even a farmer who has never seen the inside of a classroom knows the inner bits of a VPN. The law of unintended consequences is a very interesting animal. Nollywood the Nigerian film industry is one such an example. Due to piracy, most movies are shot in less than 24 hours, the movie companies only make money in the 1st week, before the pirates take over. This sends the production companies back to studio to shoot another movie in 12 hours. Nollywood is the second largest movie industry in the world after bollywood, but guess who the nigerian film stars need to thank, the pirates. Without the pirates, they wouldn’t even feature in the top 50. At times the devil can be your best friend, you simply need to open your eyes.

    • Wayan Vota says:

      So in other words, you have no support for your original comment about London, and you’d rather change the subject that admit your error.

      • Cavin Mugarura says:

        The last time I worked as an intern was 20 years ago, even then it was a paid gig, you can find the info on Paris and London with the help of an intern.

        Internet shutdowns are not as bad as claimed by the doomsayers, we live in a strange world where click bait is the nature of the day, screaming headlines and juvenile content. It’s all feathers but no chicken.

        • Wayan Vota says:

          If you cannot do a simple Google search to support your comment, then your comments are worth less than feathers.

          • Cavin Mugarura says:

            Lol, you have failed to get an intern – or you are ashamed of exposing your ignorance. Anyway like I always say, they are too many experts in this world and sadly most of them know little to nothing. Internet shutdown are a form of oppression , oppression is a necessary evil. This is what is known as growing pains, most countries in Africa were formed less than 60 years ago at the berlin conference, and people want to compare them to America. I think we are getting ahead of our selves and being counter intuitive. An American president was a slave owner, these are part and parcel of how nations emerge. The expert bloggers were happy to see Libya;s strongman Gadaffi fall, they didn’t know the situation would turn out worse than Iraq. If you asked many Libyans they would say they miss his days. Democracy doesn’t fall from the sky or served on a silver platter.

  5. internet shutdown in Africa and some part of Europe, poses a serious threats to the citizenry of these countries that was previously name, the importance of information is a paramount issues that need to be address, the shutting down of internet poses serious threats to the peace and security that we’re yearning for. it also hinder our democracy.