· Service providers told to restrict online speeds
· Opponents say move will hamper country’s progress
Robert Tait in Tehran
Wednesday October 18, 2006
Iranian women use the internet in village of Qarn Abad, 240 miles north-east of Tehran. Photograph: Hasan Sarbakhshian/AP
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’stelecommunications 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.
The latest step has drawn condemnation from MPs, internet service companies and academics, who say it will hamper Iran’s progress. “Every country in the world is moving towards modernisation and a major element of this is high-speed internet access,” said Ramazan-ali Sedeghzadeh, chairman of the parliamentary telecommunications committee. “The country needs it for development and access to contemporary science.”
Iran has not responded to a western incentive package that includes the offer of state-of-the-art internet technology in return for the suspension of a key part of the country’s nuclear programme.
A petition branding the high-speed ban as “backward and unprincipled” bearing more than 1,000 signatures is to be sent to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Scores of websites and blogs are censored using hi-tech US-made filtering equipment. Iran filters more websites than any other country apart fromChina. High-speed links can be used with anti-filtering devices to access filtered sites.
The telecoms regulator declined to explain the decision but said it was taken by “a collection of policy-makers”. However, Etemad, a pro-reformist newspaper, suggested it was part of an official campaign to stem a western “cultural invasion”.
“Unpleasant whispers are saying that the motivations behind the scenes are the same as those involved in the purging of satellite dishes,” the paper wrote.
Parastoo Dokoohaki, a prominent Iranian blogger, said the move was designed to foil the government’s opponents. “If you want to announce a gathering in advance, you won’t see it mentioned on official websites and newspapers would announce it too late. Therefore, you upload it anonymously and put the information out. Banning high-speed links would limit that facility. Despite having the telecoms facilities, fibre-optic technology and internet infrastructure, the authorities want us to be undeveloped.”
The crackdown comes in an atmosphere of increasing restrictions on the media. Last week, Mr Ahmadinejad launched a fierce attack on the head of the state broadcasting organisation, IRIB, which he blamed for stoking public fears about inflation. Iran’s leading reformist newspaper, Shargh, was also closed last month.