Wednesday, October 18, 2006 - The Progress & Freedom Foundation Blog

Iran Battles the Digital Future & Global Culture

The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper reports that Iran has just banned high-speed Internet connections in an effort to restrict access to foreign culture:

"In a blow to the country's estimated 5 million internet users, service providers have been told to restrict online speeds to 128 kilobytes a second and been forbidden from offering fast broadband packages. The move by Iran's telecommunications regulator will make it more difficult to download foreign music, films and television programmes, which the authorities blame for undermining Islamic culture among the younger generation. It will also impede efforts by political opposition groups to organise by uploading information on to the net. The order follows a purge on illegal satellite dishes, which millions of Iranians use to clandestinely watch western television. Police have seized thousands of dishes in recent months."

One wonders how long such a strategy can really work since communications and computing devices continue to get smaller and faster every day. Unless you shut down all the networks and tightly restrict access to all the potential digital devices out there, especially wireless devices, then this approach is not likely to work in the long run. For example, a recent story in the Washington Post noted how despite strict communications and media laws in Saudi Arabia (the country once sought to ban cell phone cameras), the youth of that country are finding ways around media restrictions:

"Cellphone technology is changing the way young people meet and date in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, one of the most insular, conservative and religiously strict societies in the world. Calls and texting -- and more recently, Bluetooth -- are breaking down age-old barriers and giving young men and women discreet new ways around the sentries of romance."

Nonetheless, the combination in Iran of a totalitarian religious state and a traditionally closed culture could mean that their restrictions will be fairly effective, at least in the short term, in preventing people from gaining access to culture and information outside their borders. But we'll see how long they can hold back the growing tide of digital information and the relentless march of technological progress.

posted by Adam Thierer @ 2:13 PM | Free Speech , Internet Governance