NEW DELHI – Indian mobile operators are losing around 24.5 million Indian rupees $350,000 in revenue every hour they are forced to suspend internet services on government orders to control protests against a new citizenship law, said a top lobby group.
Countrywide protests have raged for three weeks after parliament passed legislation which gives minorities from neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh a path to citizenship but excludes Muslims.
That, coupled with a plan for a national register of citizens, are seen by critics as anti-Muslim moves by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
To quell protests, the government has deployed thousands of police personnel as well as intermittently ordered mobile data shutdowns at a time people have used social media such as Instagram and TikTok to wage a parallel battle online. Such internet suspensions have been criticised by internet freedom activists.
On Friday last, mobile internet was ordered shut in at least 18 districts in northern Uttar Pradesh state, a telecom industry source told Reuters.
A Reuters witness received a text message from an internet service provider announcing that home broadband services on the outskirts of capital New Delhi will be unavailable for 24 hours, till the morning of Dec 28. Indians consume an average of 9.8 gigabytes of data per month on their smartphones, the highest in the world, according to the Swedish telecom gearmaker, Ericsson. The country is the biggest market by users for social media firm Facebook and its messenger WhatsApp.
Internet shutdowns should not be first course of action, said the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which counts mobile carriers Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Industries’ Jio Infocomm as its members.
“We’ve highlighted the cost of these shutdowns,” COAI director general Rajan Mathews told Reuters. “According to our computation at the end of 2019, with the increase in online activities we believe the cost (of internet shutdowns) is close to $350,000 for an hour of internet shutdown.”
The revenue losses will pile on to the woes of India’s telecoms sector, bruised by a price war and saddled with a combined $13 billion in overdue payments following a Supreme Court ruling in October.
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