Internet shutdowns, which occurred 13 times over the past four years, no longer just affect micro businesses such as internet cafes. An exploding internet penetration rate, at over a fifth of the population size now, is impacting thriving digital-based markets and industries, from taxi hailing cabs and delivery services to information technology firms. The consequences are affecting an ever growing portion of the population at a time when the economy is slowing, and chief among these were drivers working for taxi hailing companies.

"We tried to contact the call centre to see what options there were," said a driver that worked for the taxi hailing company RIDE, which uses GPS tracking to calculate fare prices and has now ceased operations following the internet blackout. "But we couldn't get through" to the company, continued the frustrated driver, whose income was halved in the past week.

The internet blackout occurred after the violence that followed reports of the death of Hachalu Hundessa, a musician and political activist, on June 30, 2020. It is an indefinite shutdown, and Ethio telecom makes few exceptions for businesses and government agencies.

For the tiny but developing IT industry that had been seeing encouraging results following the increasing importance of digital services during the COVID-19 pandemic and government initiatives to improve connectivity, the blackout was a rude awakening. The alternatives some have sought, such as resorting to SMS texts, are a poor substitute for the flexibility and dynamism the internet had provided, and it is "now extremely discouraging to venture into e-commerce.”

"We'll be incorporating [issues like internet shutdowns] in the plans that will follow the strategy,” was the response from the Ministry of Innovation & Technology.

Beyond the economic implications, digital rights advocacy groups insist that internet shutdowns are not long-term solutions, if not counter-productive. The content on the internet is a reflection of sentiments on the ground, argue these groups, and the answer to the political unrest should instead come through mediation.

You can read the full story    here    

PUBLISHED ON Jul 13,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1055]

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