Indian mobile operators are losing around 24.5 million 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.
Countrywide protests have raged for three weeks after India’s 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, government has deployed thousands of police as well 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 criticized by internet freedom activists, Reuters reported.
On Friday, mobile internet was ordered shut in at least 18 districts in northern Uttar Pradesh state.
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 9.8 gigabyte of data per month on their smartphones, the highest in the world, according to telecoms network maker Ericsson. India is the biggest market by users for social media platform Facebook and its messenger WhatsApp.
Internet shutdowns should not be first course of action, said Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). Mobile carriers such as Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio are the members of COAI.
“We’ve highlighted the cost of these shutdowns,” COAI director general Rajan Mathews said. “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 24.5 million rupees 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.
The bans follows an unprecedented shutdown of internet and text messaging services in parts of Delhi last week, widening a communications clampdown in restive areas stretching from disputed Kashmir to the northeast.
Internet services in Indian Kashmir were suspended for over 140 days since New Delhi relegated its status to a federal administered territory from a state, making it the longest such shutdown in a democracy, according to digital rights group Access Now.