Is Turkey rich enough to get away with limiting Internet access?

Is Turkey rich enough to get away with limiting Internet access?

The Turkish government has recently been expressing its wish to create a new “economic narrative” to bring the country back to a high growth track. Certainly, a rich climate for entrepreneurship would play a key role in developing a fresh economic story. However, it is questionable whether the country can achieve this goal by limiting access to certain Internet services from time to time - among other restrictions. 

Such blockages have many negative effects on daily economic activity, mainly by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

A recent Brookings report found that Internet shutdowns in 19 countries cost $2.4 billion in economic activity last year. These economic losses included $968 million in India, $465 million in Saudi Arabia, $320 million in Morocco, $209 million in Iraq, $116 million in Brazil, $72 million in the Republic of the Congo, $69 million in Pakistan, $69 million in Bangladesh, $48 million in Syria, $35 million in Turkey, and $20 million in Algeria, among others.

When the spillover effects of such blockages are added to these country’s daily economic and entrepreneurship activities, the real costs are greater. 

Apart from disrupting lives and families, such shutdowns weaken overall economic development and exacerbate the plight of small and medium-sized businesses in these countries, the report noted. 
“As long as political authorities continue to disrupt Internet activity, it will be difficult for impacted nations to reap the full benefits of the digital economy,” it added. 

In the fall of 2015, Turkey notoriously blocked Twitter and Facebook in response to concern over the spread of images of a terrorist bombing of a public rally. Government officials justified this action by claiming that showing graphic images would “create a feeling of panic” among the general population.

Most recently, on Oct. 8 a Turkish court blocked access to Google’s cloud storage service, Google Drive, as well as two other popular cloud services, Dropbox and Microsoft’s OneDrive. The bans drew angry reactions from Internet users.

While Turkey’s Internet watchdog later restored access to Google Drive in Turkey, access to Dropbox and OneDrive had still not yet been restored. Code hosting service GitHub and Internet archive website were also blocked in the same ruling.

According to reports by the independent Engelli Web (Restricted Web) organization, a total of 114,257 websites were blocked in Turkey as of Oct. 10.

A big startup conference was held in Istanbul last week. More than 1,000 potential or existing entrepreneurs had an opportunity to present their projects to investors at Startup Istanbul, an initiative launched by the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey (TOBB) and E-Tohum to promote newly launched businesses.

Three projects from three countries were chosen ahead of 15 finalists as the top initiatives on the final day of the event. These three projects were from Jordan, Turkey and Greece. 

There were plenty of other projects from Turkey that attracted great attention from investors. Indeed, we can see many successful digital enterprises in Turkey, where Internet use is quite widespread and Internet access is excellent. 

Many more enterprises could be born if fertile ground was created, without more Internet shutdowns. 

In a recent interview, Nevzat Aydın, the CEO of popular food ordering company, who sold his company for a record $589 million in 2015, said it is not easy to be an entrepreneur or an investor in today’s Turkey amid various uncertainties. He added that he would not have been able to sell if the deal had been planned today.  

More problems like Internet shutdowns are the last thing that potential and existing entrepreneurs and investors in Turkey need. There have already been many other problems in recent months.