New Delhi: An industry group of India’s tech and telecoms giants has urged the central government to get the country’s internet shutdowns under control to help avoid the uncertainties caused by countries giving such orders, according to sources and a letter seen by Reuters.
The government said in 2019 that emergency internet shutdowns are a matter of states in the interest of law and order. The Internet and Mobile Association of India (IAMAI) – which represents Alphabet’s Google, Twitter, Facebook, Reliance and others – said in a letter to the government that the current system was “causing great inconvenience to the local public in general”.
The letter, seen by Reuters, says that only the federal government should serve as the governing authority for internet suspensions, and states must follow the procedures they have outlined. Two industry sources said a federal oversight would simplify the process of implementing the shutdowns.
The shutdown of the internet cost the country more than $580 million in 2021, with 59 million people affected by the disruption of wireless services that lasted more than 1,150 hours, according to a research report by online privacy group top10vpn.
India has topped the world in total internet shutdowns in the past four years, accounting for 58% of the 182 cases recorded globally last year, according to internet advocacy group Access Now.
State governments in the country often resort to this to maintain law and order, for example during protests, or also in some cases to prevent cheating during exams. Once the lockdown order is issued, carriers shut down cellular networks at transmission towers that provide mobile internet services in the area, disrupting services such as Google, Twitter and WhatsApp.
IAMAI’s letter to the government, which has yet to be made public, comes at a time when India’s major tech companies are already facing tougher rules on everything from data storage to compliance standards, driving up their costs and discouraging investment plans.
The letter is part of a broader response from IAMAI to a government advisory paper seeking stakeholder views on renewing the telecommunications sector’s legal framework. India’s Ministry of Communications did not respond to requests for comment on the IAMAI letter. The Industrial Authority, Google, Facebook, Twitter and Reliance also did not respond.
“Internet shutdowns are massively disproportionate and excessive. They harm the livelihoods, education and health care of a large number of people,” said Radhika Jahlani, a volunteer legal advisor at the Center for Software Freedom and the Law, who has followed up on the case. It added that around 96% of India’s internet users are mobile internet users and that the shutdowns are bringing a “total stop”.