Egypt's shut down of the Internet in response to the pro-democracy riots taking place there was not only costly to its citizens when it comes to having access to key communications, it also proved costly to the nation's economy.
Preliminary figures released Thursday by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development showed that Egypt's decision to block Internet services for five days cost the country an estimated $90 million. The OECD said the blocked telecommunications and Internet services accounted for about 3 percent to 4 percent of the country's gross domestic product, which accounted for about $18 million a day.
"The long-term impact could be greater ... as it has cut off domestic and international high-tech firms who provide services globally and will make it much more difficult in the future to attract foreign companies and assure them that the networks will remain reliable. To date, attracting such firms has been a key strategy of the government," the OECD said in an e-mail to reporters Thursday.
Internet penetration in Egypt is still low compared to other OECD countries. Fixed and wireless broadband penetration was still under 10 percent as of December 2009, the OECD said. The average for OECD countries was about 23.3 percent as of December 2009.
In the United States, Egypt's move to cut off Internet access has prompted new debate over cybersecurity legislation that some critics say includes an emergency power provision that could be used by the U.S. president to shut down U.S. access to the Internet.
In response to such concerns, Senate Homeland Security Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., issued a statement Tuesday insisting that the bill they offered in the last Congress, and are expected to reintroduce, would not allow the president to shut down the Internet.
Still, Free Press said late Wednesday that the last version of the bill included "broad, ambiguous language" that does not provide adequate safeguards.
"It's good to see the senators have heard the outcry from Americans troubled by this bill, but their promises that the bill won't give the president 'kill-switch' powers aren't very reassuring," Timothy Karr of Free Press said in a statement. "The devil is always in the details, and here the details suggest that this is a dangerous bill that threatens our free speech rights."
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