Indian mobile operators are gathering a loss of ₹2.45 crore ($350,000) in revenue every hour that they are forced to suspend internet services on government orders to control protests against a new citizenship law, a top lobby group said on Friday.
Protests have intensified against the Citizenship Act that provides selective minorities from these countries to apply for citizenship. The countries are Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh a path to citizenship but exclude Muslims.
The citizenship Act along with a national register of citizens is seen by critics as anti-Muslim moves by the Hindu nationalist government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Such internet suspensions have been criticised by internet freedom activists. On Friday, mobile internet was ordered shut in at least 18 districts in northern Uttar Pradesh state, a telecoms industry source told Reuters.
To quell protests, the govt has initiated steps for mobile data shutdowns at a time people have used social media such as Instagram and TikTok to wage a parallel battle online.
According to Swedish telecoms gear maker Ericsson Indians states, Indians on average consume 9.8 gigabytes of data per month on their smartphones, the highest in the world, according to Swedish telecoms gearmaker Ericsson.
Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) states curbing the internet should not be the first directive of the Govt when it starts to quell protests, which counts mobile carriers Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Industries Jio Infocomm as its members.
COAI director general Rajan Mathews told Reuters about the cost constitution. “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 ₹2.45 crore for an hour of internet shutdown.”
It will put a lot of pressure on Telecom companies with a combined $13 billion in overdue payments following a Supreme Court ruling in October.
Bharti, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Jio did not respond to emails seeking comment.
The bans follow 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.
According to digital rights group Access Now, Internet services in Indian Kashmir were suspended for over 140 days since New Delhi making it the longest such shutdown in a democracy.