Telecom companies in Bahrain have been deliberately disrupting internet services in the village of Duraz between 7:00pm-1:00am everyday for 250 days. The current sustained levels of internet disruption in the village for over 8 months is unprecedented anywhere in the world.
The shutdown has been maintained by disabling cell towers and dropping approximately 90% of packets on fixed-line connections. A Bahrain Watch investigation found that the shutdown has been systematic and continuous since 23 June 2016. A coalition of NGO’s sent a letter to the Bahrain Telecommunications Regulation Authority in August 2016 but have not received a response. An economic analysis by Bahrain Watch now estimates the cost of the internet shutdown to be more than 210,000 Bahraini Dinars (more than half a million USD) paid for by consumers.
Despite the nightly shutdown, Bahrain Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have forced residents to pay their monthly subscription costs in full for interrupted services. They have threatened to impose significant fines if payments are delayed or if customers attempt to end their subscription. The level of fines differ across the different ISP’s and depending on the duration of consumer contracts. In an earlier report Bahrain Watch has calculated that the estimated costs of the shutdown after 135 days. The total amount paid by consumers in Duraz during that period was over 100,000 Bahraini Dinars (BD). In this report we will calculate the costs on residents after 250 days.
The internet in Duraz has been shutdown for at least six hours every day for 250 days, or about 1500 hours. This adds up to over two months of disabled internet access. The outcome suggests that ISP’s have charged consumers in Duraz for approximately two months of no internet.
The population in Duraz has been estimated at approximately twenty thousand and Bahrain’s mobile data penetration has been estimated at 115%. We assume that mobile subscription costs at least 4BD per month which makes the total amount 184 thousand Bahraini Dinars. These costs are set to further increase as service providers have from February 2017 unanimously increased the minimum subscription costs from 4BD to 6BD. If we add fixed-line subscription, taking into consideration that fixed-line penetration rate is estimated at 13% of the population, the cost is at least 5 BD per month, in line with the most basic plan offered by each company, which adds up to 26 thousand BD.
This calculation of the total cost for mobile and fixed-line subscriptions finds that residents have paid over 210,000BD for the shutdown. This is a conservative estimate of economic damages to residents, and does not take into account the wider economic losses stemming from the shutdown.
The Internet shutdown in the Duraz has severely disrupted ordinary life for residents, in particular businesses that rely on the internet for needs such as processing payments. It has also placed a heavy burden on students and teachers as Bahrain’s education sector is increasingly internet reliant. Students have been unable to register for university courses without use of the internet. Additionally, families inside Duraz are unable to communicate with friends and family. This is particularly serious for the elderly and disabled who are unable or face serious difficulties commuting in and out of the village for an internet connection.
Alongside internet disruptions, residents have complained about waiting in long queues at checkpoints to be able to enter the village. Individuals that that do not have a registered address in Duraz is prevented from entering the village, forcing residents to hold many of their social events including weddings and funerals outside Duraz. Officials have recently blockaded two central entrances to the village with cement, permanently preventing their use and completely paralysing all businesses located in the vicinity. The location has been cut off from both existing and potential customers causing losses that have caused stores to shut down. Several stores have been either placed on sale or are on the verge of bankruptcy because of the internet shutdown and village closure. Moreover, residents have complained of the lack of basic needs to the village during various periods, including gas, fresh water and other essential goods.
Bahrain Watch is a member of the #KeepItOn coalition fighting against internet shutdowns across the world. Internet shutdowns pose a serious threat to human rights. They harm everyone: businesses, emergency services, journalism, human rights defenders, and demonstrators.
Deji Olikotun from Access Now and the #KeepItOn campaign said:
"We know that internet shutdowns harm human rights and the economy. The shutdown in Duraz shows how worrying -- and duplicitous -- these disruptions can be by imposing a digital curfew on people's lives. And these cost figures likely underestimate the long-term effects of the shutdown, which undermine investor confidence in supply chains and investment. Authorities -- and the telcos -- should restore full access to residents."