Pulling the plug on the internet for a day - what it would cost the world?
An occasional digital detox is a great way to reconnect with the real world, slow down and enjoy analogue life.
But can you imagine the impact if everyone in the world, just for one day, had to make do without the internet? It would be more than just a mild inconvenience - it would cause mayhem in every sector of society, and industry. But what would the tangible financial impact of taking the globe offline for 24 hours be?
VPN software vendor Atlas VPN says the figure is US$43 billion. The United States and China alone make up half of the sum together, accumulating $21 billion in losses. The cost for New Zealand would be NZ$158 million.
In the US, one of the most connected countries in the world, the losses would amount to $11 billion. As a centre for digital and financial services, a lack of connectivity from coast to coast would see global communication and trade grind to a halt. China would take a $10 billion hit, with its massive manufacturing sector bearing the brunt of it.
How did Atlas VPN come up with the figures? They used the Netblocks Cost of Shutdown Tool (COST), which estimates the economic impact of an internet disruption, mobile data outage, or app restriction using indicators from the World Bank, ITU, Eurostat and U.S. Census.
Factors such as the size of a country's digital economy, GDP, and ICT indicators such as broadband and mobile subscriber numbers, are taken into account.
The numbers are far from abstract for millions of Optus customers in Australia, who were without access to internet and phone services for around nine hours yesterday as Optus suffered a nationwide outage. the embattled telco, which suffered one of the largest data breaches in Australia's history last year, is still establishing how the deep technical failure happened, as businesses seek compensation for being offline.
According to the Netblocks tool, a nationwide blanket outage across all providers lasting 24 hours would cost the Australian economy NZ$775 million.
Yesterday's Optus outage, as tracked by Netblocks
“We often don't appreciate the backbone role the internet now plays. An outage would bring activities to a standstill and underscore how much our economic functions depend on stable online access. Access to the internet should be a basic human right, and should not be restricted by governments or providers,” Atlas VPN's Vilius Kardelis, wrote in a blog post.
Could the entire internet be taken down? It's highly unlikely. As the BBC Science Focus pointed out, the diverse nature of the infrastructure that underpins the internet would make trying to turn off the internet like trying to stop every river in the world from flowing.
"You can dam or divert individual streams, but it is virtually impossible to block them all at once, because the water always tries to find a new route downhill. Likewise, the internet is a huge and complex structure operated by a mixture of government and commercial bodies – as well as billions of private individuals," the BBC's Luis Villazon wrote.
But he also points out that given the dominance of tech giants Microsoft, Google and Amazon, even knocking a few key players offline would have dramatic consequences.
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