Last month, a Bahrain Watch investigation found that since 20 June 2016, telecom companies in Bahrain have been deliberately shutting off internet service in the village of Duraz from 7:00 pm-1:00 am on a daily basis by disabling cell towers and dropping about 90% of packets on fixed-line connections. Bahrain Watch has continued to track the internet disruption, which continues as of 5 November 2016.
Figure 1: Location of the village of Duraz in the North of Bahrain (Source: Google Maps).
Despite the deliberate disruption, telecom companies have been requiring residents to pay their monthly subscription cost in full. The companies impose a fine if payments are delayed. Residents typically cannot cancel their service without penalty because they entered into fixed-term contracts with telecom providers. Several residents who have complained to their telecom companies about this have been told to instead complain to the Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA). A coalition of NGOs including Bahrain Watch sent a letter to the TRA in August about the shutdown, but has not yet received a response.
Since the disruption is coordinated across several telecom companies, we speculated that it may be the result of a Service Restriction Order (SRO) from the Bahrain Government. The UN Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution condemning state measures that disrupt access to information online.
Breach of contract?
Lawyer Abdali Alasfoor argued in an interview with Al Wasat that the Duraz internet shutdown constitutes a breach of contract, because telecommunications companies are not providing the services agreed upon in the fixed-term contracts signed between consumers and their telecommunications providers. He argued that residents can sue the telecom companies under Article 158 of Bahrain’s Civil Code, which entitles wronged parties to sue for compensation those that caused them harm.
Calculation of compensation
According to a Bahrain Watch estimate, consumers in Duraz have been collectively overcharged by at least 100,000 BD (more than 265,000 USD) over the course of the disruption so far.
Duraz’s population has been estimated about twenty thousand. Bahrain’s mobile data penetration has been estimated at 115%, and its fixed-line penetration rate estimated at 13% of the population. We assume that each mobile subscription costs at least 4 BD per month, and each fixed-line subscription costs at least 5 BD per month, in line with the most basic plan offered by each company. The internet in Duraz has been unusable for six hours per day for 135 days (since 23 June 2016), or about 810 hours, which adds up to a little more than a month.
This calculation leads us to a figure of 105,000 BD, assuming one month of disruption. This is, of course, a conservative estimate of economic damages, as it does not take into account further losses stemming from the shutdown, such as students unable to complete assignments, and businesses unable to process credit card payments.
Bahrain Watch continues to demand the restoration of internet services in Duraz, and compensation for affected customers.