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, a top lobby group said on Friday.
Countrywide protests have been in continuation for three weeks after parliament passed legislation which gives minorities from neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh a path to citizenship but excludes Muslims.
To control protests, the government has deployed thousands of police as immediately ordered mobile data to shutdown as pepople used social media such as Instagram and TikTok to wage a parallel battle online. 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.
Indians consume an average 9.8 gigabyte of data per month on their smartphones, the highest in the world, according to Swedish telecoms gearmaker Ericsson. The country is the biggest market by users for social media firm Facebook and its messenger WhatsApp.
Internet shutdowns should not be first course of action, said the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), which counts mobile carriers Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and Reliance Industries’ Jio Infocomm as its members.
The bans follow an unmatched 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.