Speed Matters for Democracy

The Iranian government has attempted to restrict high speed internet connections in their efforts to limit information and media access.  The Iranian leadership, headed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, understands that fast internet is a powerful tool of communication which could threaten their autocratic style of governing.  The policies of Iran highlight how essential high speed internet is to a healthy and functioning democracy, like the U.S.

The Regulatory Organization for Computer Laws, a governmental agency that includes members from the Ministry of Intelligence, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and the Iran High Council of the Cultural Revolution, has prohibited internet service providers (ISPs) from supplying internet connections above 128 kbps.  ISPs have begun reducing internet speeds to homes and public cafes.  These restrictions have been enacted while the Iranian government has also censored web content, banning sites like the BBC's Persian-Language site, YouTube, Wikipedia and Amazon.  At the beginning of 2007, the Iranian government determined that all websites dealing with Iran had to be registered with The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance in order for users in the country to view them. Iran also carries the dubious distinction of being the first nation to jail a blogger. 

According to the Human Rights Watch report in 2004, "the government has imprisoned online journalists, Bloggers, and technical support staff. It has blocked thousands of websites, including – contrary to its claims that it welcomes criticism – sites that criticize government policies or report stories the government does not wish to see published".

Restrictions on internet connections have coincided with a period of crackdown and censorship of media.  The leading pro-reform newspapers have been shut-down, while satellite dishes are banned.  The government was successful in restricting radio, television and print media, which led to an increase in online media as avenues for alternative views.  Now, the Iranian government is working to limit the capacity and content of the Web.

Lowering internet speed could hinder the work of students and researches, while leaving the Iranian people lagging behind the rest of the world in digital development. Internet users will be constrained in their ability to download audio and video files.  Hindering the development of high speed broadband and relegating Iranians to slow internet connections is a step beyond government censorship and limits the ability of Iranians to be engaged world citizens.  Students and other activists have been able to circumvent the government censures, but with limits on internet speed they will be unable to access some sites and information.  The 128 kbps restriction would prevent subscribers from accessing websites from foreign satellite channels, like the popular Voice of America and Channel One.

"Once more, one of the most important tools for providing information is faced with new government red lines and restrictions," the opposition daily, Etemad-e Melli, wrote in an article.

These anti-democratic policies of the Iranian government display just how imperative high speed internet is to fostering open media and communication.  The repressive Iranian government understands the importance of high speed internet for citizen participation and distribution of information.  For the U.S. to have a dynamic and working democracy, universal access to fast internet is vital.  The U.S. should be working in the exact opposite direction of Iran by providing high speed internet connections to all Americans in order to increase the exchange of information and critical discussion.

Iran Focus:Iran's Internet Censors Begin Clampdown

Asharq Alawsat:Iran Bans High Speed Internet Services and Satellite Channels

Reuters:Iran cuts Internet speeds to homes and cafes

Human Rights Watch Report