Report: Internet shutdowns already cost more than $10 billion in 2022

Government-ordered internet disruptions not only have human rights impacts — they come with economic costs, too. 

An updated report from Top10VPN released Tuesday found that there have already been more major internet shutdowns in 2022 so far compared to all of 2021 — and the economic fallout has been nearly twice as severe. 

Fifty-four internet shutdowns across 16 countries cost $10.16 billion in 2022 to date, while the company tracked 50 major shutdowns costing $5.45 billion the previous year, according to the report. 

The researchers tracked three types of disruptions in their assessment — internet blackouts, social media shutdowns, and severe throttling where mobile networks are only able to transmit voice calls and text messages. 

The majority of the costs tied to internet disruptions tracked in 2022 so far involve Russia’s ongoing social media blackouts, which the report calculates has cost $8.77 billion and went into effect around the country’s invasion of neighboring Ukraine.  

The cost of the disruptions was calculated via the Netblocks and the Internet Society’s Cost of Shutdown Tool. That tool relies on a methodology developed by the Brookings Institution in 2016 as well as a specialized model from CIPESA for sub-Saharan Africa.

“Regional shutdown costs are derived from the region’s economic output as a proportion of national GDP,” according to the report. Partial shutdowns costs were calculated in proportion to the latest publicly available internet market-share information for affected countries, per the methodologies section. 

That section says researchers review all internet shutdowns each year — sourcing from Netblocks, the Georgia Institute of Technology’s Internet Outage Detection & Analysis (IODA) system, and the SFLC.IN Internet Shutdown tracker — and include “deliberate national internet shutdowns along with regional disruptions that are on a sufficient scale to be economically significant.”

Most of those incidents tracked by the Top10VPN report this year have human rights implications — such as attempting to interfere with elections, press freedom, or public protests. However, others are connected to the pattern of government internet blackouts in some countries, including Syria and Sudan, during major academic exams

Top10VPN reports there have been 301 major internet shutdowns in 48 countries since 2019, costing the world economy $27.68 billion.

However, because the report excludes smaller outages, the full human rights and economic toll of government internet shutdown is likely even greater. 

Earlier this year international digital human rights nonprofit Access Now and the #KeepItOn coalition reported they had tracked 182 internet shutdowns across 34 countries in 2021. 

But no matter how they are counted, web watchers say such outages can have devastating ripple effects.  

“Regardless of the methodology employed to measure such incidents, it is clear that government-directed internet shutdowns profoundly disrupt economies and the lives of the people affected by them,” Doug Madory, director of internet analysis at network monitoring firm Kentik told The Record.

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Andrea Peterson

Andrea Peterson

(they/them) is a longtime cybersecurity journalist who cut their teeth covering technology policy at ThinkProgress (RIP) and The Washington Post before doing deep-dive public records investigations at the Project on Government Oversight and American Oversight.