Economists are warning governments around the world that a single day "blackout" of the Internet would have a major impact on the global economy, with businesses likely to suffer major losses and costly damage which would have huge and lasting effects.
And they are calling for multi-stakeholder consultations involving businesses, governments, civil society and technical experts to help formulate any policies that affect the functioning of the Internet.
A survey conducted by the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) and the Ifo Institute for Economic Research found concern especially high wherever Internet penetration is highest, including Japan, Taiwan, Thailand, India and Pakistan. In contrast, in the CIS countries covered by the survey — Russia, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan — the majority of polled economists stated that a day-long shut down of the Internet would lead to short-term delays but that the economy would not be considerably damaged.
Some 75 percent of economists in Oceania say if the Internet were to completely shut down for a day worldwide it would have a major impact, with a further 13 percent predicting it would have huge and lasting effects.
The survey came in the wake of recent massive disruption to Internet services in the Middle East at the end of January. Four undersea communication cables were cut during a one-week period, providing real-life examples of the massive losses which can occur when Internet service is interrupted. The cuts caused a dramatic breakdown in Internet access in much of the Middle East, with India, the US and Europe also experiencing slowdowns. The cuts wreaked major damage to the Internet backbone despite backup routers and raised questions about the safety of the oceanic network that handles most of the world's Internet and telephone traffic.
The survey asked economists to predict the impact on their country's economy if the Internet completely shut down for a day worldwide. The researchers received a total of 1004 responses from economists in 90 countries.
"Business, governments and people depend on the Internet for such a large number of their activities today. We must prioritize the secure and stable functioning of the Internet. Ensuring there are appropriate policy, legal and regulatory frameworks is essential to preventing economic loss, and disruption of people's lives while still maximizing the opportunities the Internet represents," says Herbert Heitmann, Chair of the ICC's Commission on Electronic Business, IT and Telecoms (EBITT). Heitmann is also chief communications officer for business software maker SAP AG.
More than 80 percent of economists who took part in the ICC/Ifo survey also agreed that Internet-related policies should be crafted with the input of all concerned stakeholders — business, government, civil society and technical experts.
"It takes adherence to good practices. It takes the experience of all stakeholders to develop and implement policies and frameworks that are put in place nationally. It must be a collaborative effort on policy and in practice," Heitmann said.
The EBITT Commission is made up of business leaders and experts from many sectors and geographies. The Commission develops policy positions and practical tools on e-business and information and communications technologies that provide valuable guidance for governments and businesses to use when formulating policies and regulations.
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