The price of shutting off the Internet

31 May 2011

One of the unanswered questions during the infamous Internet shutdown in Egypt earlier this year was just what the consequences of such an action would be in terms of economic damage.

For now-former president Hosni Mubarak and two of his former ministers, the personal economic impact will be a total of $90 million in fines.

A Cairo court slapped Mubarak with a $33 million fine for ordering telecoms services shut down during the protests that eventually led to his ouster. But former Interior Minister Habib el-Adly was fined a larger amount of $50 million. Ex-Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif was fined $7 million.

The news reports so far (or at least the English-language ones) haven’t said how the court arrived at those figures; the Associated Press report says the fines were “compensation for financial losses the nation incurred during the telecommunication disruptions”.

$90 million seems a little low, if only because estimated losses for the ISP and cellular sector alone were as high as $110 million for the imposed 6.5-day blackout. Then again, this isn’t compensation money being paid to the operators (as far as I know).

Also, it’s worth remembering that the Internet shutdown was arguably the least of Mubarak’s offenses – he’s also up on charges of corruption and conspiring to kill protesters, and could get the death penalty if he’s convicted.

So it’s hard to place the fines in the context of fair compensation to those affected by the blackout, or what they mean outside of that specific event.

Still, it’s good that the court actually made a ruling on it. Something as unprecedented as an Internet shutdown – particularly as a last-ditch tactic to stifle political opposition – warrants some form of penalty.

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