London, Asharq Al-Awsat- Last Saturday, Iran’s Internet Service Providers (ISP) received forthright instructions from the Regulatory Organization for Computer Laws, a governmental organization that includes representatives from the Ministry of Intelligence, the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and the Iran High Council of the Cultural Revolution (considered the highest authority), to stop providing high-speed broadband and DSL connections and services to new customers. Two days later, (ISP) received instructions to not exceed the low speed of 128K, which would mean that millions of subscribers can no longer access internet websites for satellite channels broadcast from abroad, on their forefront the Voice of America and Channel One [An 24-hour Iranian channel that is broadcast from Los Angeles], which is very popular in Iran. This also results in difficulty accessing audio and visual messages on websites, if not impossible.
Following Iran’s crackdown on those who oppose or criticize the government, both in the independent print media and through radio and television, the latter of which the government has sustained control over their broadcasts, internet presence and activity has swiftly and effectively flourished over the past few years. According to the Human Right’s 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”. The organization also cites the figures, 250,000 as the estimated number of online users in 2001, which soared to an incredible 6.2 million by July 2005. “Iran was home to 683 ISPs” according to the source.
Presently, following the Ministry of Intelligence and the security forces’ brutal campaign against satellite channels in Tehran and other major cities, security men have confiscated over 500,000 satellite dishes and receivers. Hundreds of thousands of Iranians (especially students and youth who regularly watch satellite television programs and tune-in to channels that are broadcast on the internet) know that the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology has imported state-of-the-art jamming, interference and filtering devices from Sweden, the United States, Finland and Taiwan last year to block the transmission of anything that opposes or criticizes the regime, whether audio or visual, including political websites from subscribers.
Notwithstanding, overcoming the filtering process does not seem to pose a challenge for the thousands of Iranian students and youth who have proven over the past year that they can easily outwit internet monitors and watchdogs. The satellite versions of the Voice of America, BBC and Channel One broadcast their headlines on a daily basis on ‘non-filtered’ sites, created by the former, despite the fact that telecommunications experts from the Ministry of Intelligence and Ministry of Information and Communications Technology block these sites a few hours later and impose their own oppositional headlines and programs, blocking subscribers’ transmission.
Banning high-speed internet connections seems to be the easiest solution to stop the spread of banned websites and satellite channels for now. The ISP companies’ objections against this new ban stems from a fear of what the consequences such a decision could have on a global level, especially after a report that was addressed to the European Union in which the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance stated that it reserved the right to cease the publication of the popular newspaper ‘Shargh’ and the magazines ‘Hafez’ and ‘Nama’, all of which criticize Ahmadinejad’s administration and policies.
Based on a report published by the newspaper ‘Technology World’ in Tehran, Engineer Arab Zada, PR president of the Regulatory Organization for Computer Laws has refrained from affirming that the organization has issued these requests to ISP companies, however the newspaper has confirmed that obtaining a connection above 128K has been banned until further notice.
Ironically, according to the Human Rights Watch, the Telecommunication Company in Iran (TCI), a private company established by the government to implement the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology’s policies had estimated 25 million online users by 2009.