The number of active Internet users in India is expected to increase by 45% in the next five years and touch 900 million by 2025 from around 622 million in 2020, according to the IAMAI-Kantar ICUBE 2020 report. The report defines an active user as someone who has accessed the Internet at least once in the past month. This increase will be driven by higher adoption in rural India, which has clocked a 13% growth to 299 million internet users over the past year, or 31% of India’s rural population.
- Any hypothetical benefits are outweighed by the economic, psychological, social, and journalistic harm inflicted by such suspensions. Suspension of the internet should only be used in an emergency, not to impede the democratic exercise of the right to protest. In certain instances, using the Internet to seek assistance is a must.
- Restrictions on the internet are frequently justified by claiming that they only apply to mobile data services. These arguments are likewise off the mark.
- Mobile device users (dongle and phone) accounted for 97.02 percent of total Internet users, according to a 2019 Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) report on Indian Telecom Services Performance Indicators.
- Only 3% of users have access to high-speed Internet. Since broadband Internet remains pricey, these figures are unlikely to have altered considerably since then. As a result, persons from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are disproportionately affected by Internet limitations.
- The Indian economy will lose USD 2.8 billion in 2020 as a result of 129 distinct instances of Internet shutdown, affecting 10.3 million people. The Internet is a source of information, entertainment, health care, education, and livelihood for people of Indian society, as well as a platform for them to engage with each other and the rest of the world.
- In this day and age, the Internet is a necessity, and limits without publicly acknowledged reasons create a trust deficit. There is also a shortfall since the Union Government has done insufficient to grant statutory legitimacy to the Anuradha Bhasin instructions.
- The Telecom Suspension Rules, 2017, were changed in 2020 to limit Internet suspension orders to a maximum of 15 days. The change, however, did not include a requirement that the government publicise its orders, nor did it include the Supreme Court’s directive that these orders be reviewed on a regular basis.
The Supreme Court directions
The Supreme Court of India ruled in January 2020 that access to information via the Internet is a fundamental right protected by the Indian Constitution.
- The Supreme Court of India found in Anuradha Bhasin versus Union of India that any government restriction on Internet access must be temporary, restricted in extent, lawful, essential, and proportionate.
- India’s Internet restrictions were also responsible for more than 70% of the world economy’s overall loss in 2020.
Ex: Access to mobile data has been restricted in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).
Following farmer protests, the internet was cut off in Delhi and Haryana.
Why Internet Shutdowns are made
- When there is civil disturbance, internet shutdowns are commonly used to impede the flow of information about government operations, to stop communication among activists, and to prevent the spread of rumours and fake news. It’s also a way for individuals and the government to verify rumours and share the facts.
- Cutoff of the Internet is an early and preventive response to prevent restive groups from organising riots against the government.
- National sovereignty cannot be separated from the Internet. As a result, internet regulation is an acceptable decision of sovereign countries based on national interests.
What can be done
- Civil society organisations, in collaboration with other stakeholders, should continue to monitor the impact of Internet shutdowns and play a critical role in pressing for government accountability and transparency.
- Before taking action, governments should do a cost-benefit study of the impact of Internet shutdowns. Network outages stifle productivity, undermine business confidence, and jeopardise both short- and long-term financial commitments.
- Internet outages should be factored into risk assessments by venture capitalists and investors. In view of how Internet shutdowns can entirely damage their ability to operate, the importance of small and medium firms, especially those outside the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, to the local economy’s future must also be recognised more broadly.
- Governments should establish best practises in resolving issues at their source, preferring alternate approaches to Internet shutdowns. Sharing experiences across and within areas could lead to solutions that do not rely on access constraints.
These limits are only permissible in a national emergency or when there is a threat to public safety, according to Parliament. As a result, stronger adherence to Supreme Court instructions on the side of the executive government is required to shed the label of the world’s “internet shutdown capital” and realise Digital India’s full potential.