Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relarions (ICRIER) launched a report, “Internet Blackout: Measuring the Economic Blackout of Internet Shutdowns in India”, on 25th April 2018, at India Habitat Centre, New Delhi.
The launch event began with a short keynote by Rajat Kathuria, Director and Chief Executive at ICRIER followed by the report launch and a panel discussion. The panel comprised the following: Rajat Kathuria, Rai Mahimapat Rai (District Magistrate, Collector & Deputy Commissioner, Ranchi), Rajan Mathews (Director General, CAOI), Raman Jit Singh Chima (Policy Director, Access Now) and Sanjeev Bikhchandani (Founder, Naukri.com). The discussion focussed on the impact of Internet Shutdowns and challenges ahead of nation in the Internet Era.
Rajat Kathuria provided a brief about the report, noting that it provides quantative estimates with respect to Internet Shutdowns in India on the basis of elasticities for mobile Internet an total Internet consumption. He futher went to emphasize that this report is published just to inform people about the current situation with regards to Internet shutdowns in the country and there are no policy recommendations in the report. He also brought forth that none of the top ten cities (classified according to GDP) apart from Ahemdabad have ever seen an Internet Shutdown. He added that in order to conclude their qualitative analysis, reserachers from ICRIER went to seven different cities and interviewed people from different walks of life.
Rai Mahimapat Rai recited his experience about an Internet Shutdown that he imposed in Bokaro district in 2016, following the stone pelting and arson activities between two religious communities on the occasion of Ram Navami. He was of the view that hyperlocalized shutdowns do not work in a district because rumours spread like fire and if Internet is not plugged out in time, the impact would spread across the state. When questioned about economic impact of Internet Shutdowns, Mr Rai stated that economic activity is one of the last concerns for a District Magistrate at the time of an emergency. He further mentioned that at the time of a curfew all the activities come to a standstill and not just the ones that are facilitated by Internet. In addition, he personally is of the opinion that Section 144 is more convenient to control the situation at hand and the telecom suspension rules are cumbersome to implement.
Rajan Mathews suggested that there should be a disaster management mechanism which is feasible to follow, and the Government should be equipped technologically and physically to deploy the same. When asked whether the telecos have a policy of informing their customers about Internet shutdowns, he said that no such policies were in place at the time. However, he said that it should be one of the responsibilities of telcos to inform their customers in advance about network shutdowns.
Sanjeev Bikhchandani also agreed that the administrative and Government authorities should be equipped with the tools to use the Internet for counter-speech purposes to manage public emergencies. He also said that there is a need to build a reliable mechanism to do this, adding that people would trust messages from the Government if they are sent often.
Raman Jit Cheema from Access Now, brought forth his concerns with respect to use of Section 144 to shutdown the Internet. Furthermore, he requested the personnel from DoT in the audience that there should be a public dialogue for policies like Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services rules. He expressed his concerns with respect to the fact how the policy was drafted in closed doors, without a dialogue.